Leaks don’t need fixing

They’re bread and butter to hungry journalists. They strike the occasional blow against small armies of taxpayer-funded propagandists, spin-doctors and liars whose modus operandi is to deny, obfuscate, and cover up the wrongdoing of their political masters.

But they almost always generate self-defeating and slippery-slope debate by other journalists (who weren’t leaked on) about the identity of the anonymous sources.

The great shame is that when the commentariat and daily news-cycle dwell on trivia about who leaked something, they fail a fundamental obligation to focus on the real story – the content of the leaked material.

Yesterday, I received a fascinating leak – a 142-page transcript of the first interview of detained Dr Mohamed Haneef by the Australian Federal Police.

It contains remarkable slabs of information. Nobody has denied that it is fictitious. Indeed, Commissioner Mick Keelty confirms its authenticity.

It was on The Australian’s web site for most of today. For the record, I have not – and will not – disclose my sources or exclude potential sources.

This leak is damaging to the official line about Dr Haneef. This is probably why Keelty, Prime Minister John Howard and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock are angrily and loudly squawking about it.

The material in the record of interview sheds illuminating light on the case against detained Dr Mohamed Haneef.

I’m keeping an open mind about whether he’s involved in a terrorist organisation, but I reckon the public has a right to every snippet of information about this case.

In an era of secrecy as the media campaigns with its Right to Know campaign, it is ironic that sections of the media are rewarding the efforts of Mr Howard, Mr Ruddock and Mr Keelty to latch on to the potential sources of the leak. Surely, our elected and appointed officials should, instead, be questioned closely about the material that comes out of this transcript.

Journalists cannot have it both ways. They cannot campaign against secrecy, then give succour to orchestrated efforts to promote secrecy.

It is, of course, (as top criminal lawyer Peter Faris, QC said today) absurd to claim that the publication of this material undermines the judicial process. If that were the case, every commentator, politician, blogger and editor should be drawn into a contempt case.

Anyway, that’s my take on this. I welcome your leaks – send them to me at thomash@theaustralian.com.au

And tell me your views on the blog site.

UPDATE: This statement was just released by Stephen Keim, Dr Haneef’s barrister:

STATEMENT BY STEPHEN KEIM, BARRISTER FOR DR HANEEF JULY 18 2007

Stephen Keim, barrister for Dr. Mohamed Haneef, today, confirmed that he had released to Queensland news media the record of the first interview conducted by Federal Police officers, soon after Dr. Haneef was arrested on 2 July 2007.

Mr. Keim said that suggestions by the Federal Police Commissioner, Mr Keelty, and government ministers that such action involved any wrong doing on his part were completely without foundation.

Mr. Keim said that a record of interview conducted with a detained person pursuant to part 1C of the Crimes Act was a document to which the detainee had a statutory right under that legislation. See s.23V(2) of the Crimes Act. There was no obligation on the detainee or anyone connected with him to keep such a document secret.

Mr. Keim said he was bemused by the assertions of Mr Keelty in circumstances where an aggressive campaign of leaking, selectively and misleadingly, from the same document and other allegedly secret documentation allegedly held by law enforcement agencies had been perpetrated in recent weeks.

“These leaks could only have been motivated by a desire by those perpetrating them to suggest to the Australian public that the case against Dr. Haneef was stronger than the Australian Federal Police, through their counsel, the Commonwealth DPP, had been able to put before the Court in Dr. Haneef’s bail application and in other formal documents such as the record of interview and the documents relied on by the Australian Federal Police in their abandoned application for more down time in which to detain Dr. Haneef,” he said.

Mr. Keim said he released the document because it provided the full bevy of information the Australian Federal Police had, concerning Dr. Haneef, at the time of arrest and the answers that Dr. Haneef had given to those questioning him in circumstances where he had recently been arrested and without Dr. Haneef having consulted lawyers or anyone else.

Mr. Keim said that the second record of interview was not yet available despite the interview having occurred late Friday and early Saturday and despite repeated requests for the transcript to be provided. The record of interview released by Mr. Keim is one of a number of important documents by which the Australian public can judge the actions taken against Dr. Haneef and the veracity of the unnamed police sources purporting to provide alleged details of the Commonwealth’s case on a repeated basis.

Mr. Keim said that he was happy to be accountable for his actions in releasing the document to the press. Mr. Keim said, however, the issue for Australia as a nation was the contents of this document and other documents in which the Commonwealth had taken opportunities to outline the evidence on which action against Dr. Haneef had been taken.

The other documents included the documents relied by the Australian Federal Police in their abandoned application to further detain Dr. Haneef; the contents of the charge against Dr. Haneef; the immigration documents supplied by Minister Andrews to dr Haneef; and the case as put to magistrate Payne on the bail application.

This information was already in the public domain although the transcript of the bail hearing and the magistrate’s decision were not yet available from court’s transcription service. The bail hearing, however, was an open court hearing and the Commonwealth’s case as presented in that hearing has been widely reported upon.

Mr Keim stated he was completely satisfied that the journalist he rleased the document to had respected his confidences.

Stephen Keim
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22094197-601,00.html