14 Nov 2011

Key files complaint with police over tea party recording

9:36 pm on 14 November 2011

John Key says he is taking a stand against what calls tabloid-style, covert media tactics and has laid a formal complaint with police following his cafe meeting with ACT candidate John Banks.

A recording of the conversation was made during the 'cup of tea' meeting between the politicians at the Auckland cafe on Friday and public endorsement from National of Mr Banks' campaign to win the Epsom seat.


Under New Zealand law, it is illegal to record two people when neither is aware they are being taped. The Crimes Act imposes a maximum of two years in prison for anyone found guilty of intentionally recording or acquiring a recording done without the knowledge of one of the parties involved.

When reporters were told to leave the cafe in Newmarket after an opening few words from the politicians, a freelance cameraman working for the Herald on Sunday left his microphone on the table.

As Mr Banks and Mr Key settled in for their talk, neither appeared to see the small black bag sitting on the table. Mr Key noticed it during the conversation and is convinced it was put there on purpose.

The Herald on Sunday was given the recording, but its request to use the material was turned down by John Key's office. The newspaper says it has decided not to publish the contents for legal and ethical reasons. However, if made public, the paper says the contents could affect the election result.

The National Party maintains it was a covert recording. John Key says he is not worried about the contents of the recording and stands by anything he said during the conversation with Mr Banks, which he has described as very bland.

Mr Key says publishing the tape would just reward what he describes as News of the World behaviour. He told reporters at Parliament on Monday that, by laying the complaint with police, he is taking a stand against tabloid-like tactics.

"This is a very serious matter in my view, and it's my opinion that they deliberately tried to undertake that secret taping. They've been unable to answer any of the questions in the last 24 hours and I'm going to put the matter in the hands of police."

At Parliament on Monday, Mr Key was grilled by reporters for details of his conversation with Mr Banks, including whether they discussed ACT Party leader Don Brash.

"I'm not going into the tape and the contents of it - I don't have a copy of it," Mr Key replied.

The Green and Labour parties say if Mr Key has nothing to hide, he should approve the recording's release.

Blown out of proportion - cameraman

The cameraman at the centre of the recording has been named as Bradley Ambrose, who says the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

Mr Ambrose says he put the microphone on the table when John Banks was answering questions before he rushed to get shots from outside the cafe.

He told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Monday that he did not hear when media were told to remove their gear.

"It's suddenly turned into this whole covert News of the World recording, when it was just a cameraman in the heat of the moment during the media scrum trying to get the questions that Banks was answering to the media."

Editor says conversation could be a game-changer

Herald on Sunday editor Bryce Johns says publishing the content of the conversation could be a game-changer in the election.

Mr Johns told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Monday what was said between Mr Key and Mr Banks is breath-taking and the content of the recording is very much in the public interest.

He says if the politicians believe the conversation was bland, they should agree to its publication so the public can read what was said.

"If the Prime Minister and Mr Banks are that convinced that the conversation was bland, let's put the onus on them. Ethically, we're doing the right thing here. Rather than muddy the waters, why don't they do the same thing?"

Mr Johns says there was a large media scrum at Friday's event and the cameraman couldn't get to the table to retrieve his microphone as media were ushered out of Urban Cafe. He says when the cameraman tried to get it afterwards, he was told it had been handed to police.

Mr Johns says while the paper could publish the transcript it does not intend to, as it would not want to give the impression it was bugging Mr Key's conversation.