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NBR v Robert Fisk – Will The Real Leak Stand Up?

NBR v Robert Fisk – Will The Real Leak Stand Up?

By Jamie Melbourne-Hayward

After Robert Fisk spoke at AUT University this Tuesday, he did not go to a Glen Innes Marae to meet Tuhoe “terror-raid” defendants, or afford Tama Iti the greatest honour of his life.

During the hour-long talk Fisk said that contrary to various reports, he had no knowledge of, or desire to meet with Iti or the Tuhoe defendants.


Click to enlarge

Image courtesy of Wesley Monts.

"I'm 62, have 22 countries and four wars to cover, I don’t have time for anything that does not involve the Middle East,” he said to rapturous applause.

Speculation of the meeting arouse when an anonymous source at parliament sent a copy of Fisk’s confidential itinerary to National Business Review columnist David Cohen.

Cohen’s column, Fisky business, was supplemented by a Sunday Star Times story which said Iti may be afforded the opportunity to meet Fisk.


Click to enlarge

Image courtesy of Wesley Monts.

Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the Independent, is currently on a tour of New Zealand, which takes in at half the countries’ Universities, and talks with top journalists.

Harper Collins publicist Sandra Noakes, who manages Fisk’s engagements, says the itinerary got into the wrong hands during the process of drafting possible meetings for Fisk.

“I think [Cohen’s] column was not correct. It was out of context,” she says.

Cohen used the leaked itinerary to fuel an opinion piece likening Fisk’s fame in New Zealand to that of a cult following, and branding the media as Fisk’s lapdogs.

“The man who would ‘speak truth to power’ has allowed something of a cargo cult to be created around him here in New Zealand,” Cohen says of Fisk.

Whether or not Fisk had any knowledge of plans to meet with the Tuhoe defendants is a moot point says Cohen.

“I did not need to know if Fisk knew [about the meeting]. All I needed was that the itinerary said he would be.”

Cohen says hypothetically if someone was sent an itinerary of “that conservative darling” P. J. O’Rourke’s plans to meet the exclusive brethren: that would be duly reported on.

The itinerary Cohen was sent appears mundane, until the proposal of staying the night at a Glenn Innes Marae for “an opportunity to engage with the first people subject to the terrorism suppression laws in this country in a Maori context”.

Noakes says it was a working draft that Cohen must have got his hands on.

“The NBR is entitled to say what they want, but I don’t like what they did.”

Prof. Jane Kelsey, an Auckland University lecturer, was attempting to arrange for Fisk to meet with the Tuhoe defendants, but nothing was finalized, she says.

“I was very annoyed with what David [Cohen] has published, as I had talked with him before.

“I told Cohen that Fisk knew nothing about meeting the Tuhoe defendants.”

Noakes replied to the NBR saying she told Cohen the itinerary was in draft form.

“When you are organizing a tour like this, you need to share the dates to get everything to work, you are working with three or four people at a time,” says Noakes.

Cohen defends his decision to comment on the itinerary, saying it looked like an authentic copy, and that Noakes could not confirm if the meeting was to take place or not.

“Noakes couldn’t say yay or nay to the meeting, and we could not contact Jane Kelsey.

"As journalists we have many documents leaked to us, and we have to make our best judgment on these things.

“There were reasonable grounds to report on,” says Cohen.

Noakes maintains she told Cohen the itinerary was a working draft, and not a final copy.

Nevertheless, Cohen’s column states: “Probably the most headline-grabbing interlude is set to take place on September 9, when Fisk is booked to visit the Te Tirahou Marae in Glen Innes to meet with a number of the individuals nabbed in last year's anti-terrorism raids.”

Cohen says this is mischevious of Fisk (or Harper Collins: the guilt is not clear), as the defendents depositions begin in September.

It is curious that New Zealand focuses on Fisk, while elsewhere in the world many other senior Middle East correspondents are reported, says Cohen.

“It is not in the spirit of things. Fisk would not endorse it.”

Fisk alluded to the dangers of the Internet in his talk at AUT University, saying wildly incorrect information circulates about him online.

Should the same care be given to second-hand, confidential information, if print is to remain a respected source of news, or has sabre rattling always been part of the game?

More curiously, who at parliament slipped Beirut Bob’s confidential itinerary to the NBR, and why?

*************

Jamie Melbourne-Hayward is an Auckland-based writer.

ENDS

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