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Journalist or author?

The Herald reports:

A High Court judge has ruled that a book written by a New Zealand Herald journalist about internet tycoon  is not “news activity” and does not get special legal protections.

The book’s author and media commentators fear the ruling could have a “chilling effect” on New Zealand journalism if reporters were unable to protect their sources.

Click here to read the ruling by Justice Helen Winkelmann.

Justice Helen Winkelmann handed down her ruling on Monday, stating that material gathered by Herald senior journalist  to write The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom: Spies, Lies and the War for the Internet can be accessed by New Zealand Police and the GCSB in their case against Dotcom.

I can’t say I’m surprised by this ruling. Otherwise it would have given some authors a special status that other authors do not have.

Dotcom’s lawyers argued that the book was based on material gathered in the newsmaking process and was therefore an exception under the .

However, Justice Winkelmann found books were not within the definition of news activity by a news medium acknowledged under the Privacy Act.

“…the writing and publication of a book cannot, at least in this instance, be construed as news activity,” the ruling said.

News activity was preparing and publishing articles.

“Investigative journalism takes its form in long, detailed articles, which are covered by the Act’s definition. Books, however, are not.”

I think there is a difference between journalism and writing a book. A journalist is generally working for a news source, and they don’t get paid based on the sales of the news medium. But an author publishes a book for profit, and that is the primary motivation of books – profit, not journalism. Nothing wrong with that, I say.

Fisher said the ruling could compromise journalism in New Zealand if sources believed their interviews could be obtained through the courts.

“I think the ruling has the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in a free press,” he said. “The impact of the ruling has a potential chilling effect on anyone who wants to deal with a journalist who is writing a book.

I would never assume that telling things to someone writing a book has the same journalistic protection as talking to someone writing for a newspaper etc.

Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.

More by David Farrar

Comments and questions

David Fisher is clearly a journalist.

Whether he's paid a salary for writing newspaper articles or profits from the sale of a book seems to me to be immaterial - he is doing the job of a journalist and his sources should be protected.

Mr Fisher is right when he says this will compromise journalism in New Zealand.

I agree. I think Farrar has this completely wrong and whether the journalist is paid via salary or commission is supremely irrelevant as a meaningful principle.

I don't know whether the judge is accurately interpreting Parliament's will but if so the law is an ass and needs changing.

So David, are you a journalist?

Justice Winkelmann's decision on the letter of the law I can just about live with, even if I hate the implications. David Farrar's argument here is fallacious and awful.

Claiming that an author publishes a book for profit is a very facile statement - and in many cases very far from the truth.