A very funny game. You go into it as a winner, and unless you die or quit while on top, you go out as a loser. Very often a politician will resign or declare that he/she won’t stand when it is pretty likely that he/she will not achieve re-election. If he/she should rise to become leader of the party, then he/she has the additional responsibility of winning or losing an election.
If the party fails to win, it is relatively rare that leader lasts long as leader, as there are always aspiring leaders waiting in the wings. Very often the loss of an election triggers a reshuffle that sees the leader and his closest associates losing control of the party. If the leader survives the reshuffle, he/she may fill the role of “elder statesman”.
Politics in New Zealand is going through a time of turmoil. With an election scheduled for next month the ruling party has come under intense pressure from a political commentator who has acquired some emails between high level members of the party and a blogger aligned with the party.
This issue has already caused the resignation of a minister of the ruling party, but in my opinion, this close to the election this doesn’t mean a huge amount. It does dent the aspirations of the minister in question. (A minister is the person responsible for a Ministry, which might correspond to a Department in some political systems. It’s a large self-contained portion of the public or civil service).
In previous elections, the communication between the politicians and the public was through the “media”, newspapers, TV and so on. In this election, bloggers have come to the fore, and the standards, either imposed from outside or adopted within the media business, no longer apply. Although there have always been some underhand dealings, since some media reporters will be aligned with one party rather than the other, it appears as the result of the rise of blogging as a political force, that skullduggery will be paramount in this election.
Briefly, a left wing commentator has received copies of email communications between high level members of the government and a right wing blogger. The left wing commentator has added two and two and got…. well, let’s say four and a half. He’s written it up into a book, which has sold, as I understand it, pretty well for a self-published book.
I’ve got part way through the book and what has amazed me, more than the actual information contained in the emails, is the tone of the communications. To say that they were vicious in their attacks on the opposition would be an understatement. This is shocking in communications between ministers of the Crown and a supposedly independent blogger.
Also the book states that the usual time scales for the supply of information to interested parties, media or public, were altered for the right wing blogger. In other words not only was he pre-warned that he should request information from the ministry, but the supply of information to him was, apparently, expedited again by the ministry so that he got it first.
Whatever the shenanigans surrounding the content of the emails, it is evident that the emails were obtained by hacking. This is stated by the mainstream media without qualification as if that explains everything, but really, it doesn’t. So far as I know, it has not been reported how the hacking was done. It may not even have been hacking in the technical sense – some “mole” may have simply forwarded the emails.
If the emails were obtained by hacking, this raises an ethical dilemma for the political commentator in question. Hacking is illegal and the emails can be considered to have been “stolen”, although it is difficult to see how electronic information can be stolen, since it is not comprised of physical things, and the original owner still has his own copy of the emails.
However that is merely a matter of definition and the concept of stealing appears to morphing to include such illegal access to information. The usage has been around for a long, long time as evidenced by the concept of the theft of someone’s ideas and the concept of “intellectual property”.
Anyway, the political commentator has in his possession stolen information. He looks at it and discovers that it can be used as evidence that the right wing blogger and others have been organising attacks on the opposition political party, and sometimes on unfavoured members of the right wing party. Should he use this stolen information to inflict damage on the right wing party or is it more ethical to ignore it? He chose to use it.
There is also a section where the right wing blogger and his associates appear to have engineering a coup in a minor political party, an ally of the right wing.
More damaging than any other are the revelations that senior members of the ruling right wing party have been involved in and even encouraged these activities.
As I said above, the left wing political commentator now has a dilemma. If he publishes, then he is making public emails that the right wing blogger will have wanted to keep secret for obvious reasons. Among the information about the political goings on was personal information and correspondence of the right wing blogger. This he kept secret.
There is a place for whistle-blowers in society, to alert the wider population of misconduct and illegal activities carried out by people or organisations, but such whistle-blowers are usually insiders, people who work for the organisation, rather than outsiders, who infiltrate or otherwise spy on organisations or people.
The political commentator has to decide whether he should publish the damaging content of the emails or should he just destroy the copy that he has been sent? If he doesn’t publish then the right wing blogger and his associates can continue to perform their allegedly dubious activities. On the other hand, if the political commentator publishes the contents of the emails, it could be argued that he is behaving unethically.
It comes down to the conscience of the political commentator. Evidently he has decided that it is in the public interest that the contents of the email be brought into the open and that this outweighs the ethical considerations of receiving the stolen emails. He has decided to publish his book for the public good, and has chosen to publish shortly before the election for maximum impact.
Opponents of his point out that by publishing before the election he is not only bringing the mess to light, but he is also assisting the the left wing parties, not to mention making money on the book. It’s worth considering whether these opponents would behave any differently if the situation were reversed.
[Sorry for the excursion into our local politics. Normal service should be resumed next week!]