New Zealand military told to soften line on 'subversive' media

WELLINGTON (AFP) - New Zealand's military was ordered on Monday to rewrite a manual that warns the media poses as much of a threat to national security as extremist groups and foreign intelligence services.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the language in the manual, which is used to train the military in security procedures, was "heavy-handed" and needed to be changed.

"My view is that the reference to investigative journalists should be removed from this order," he said in a statement. "It is inappropriate and heavy-handed."

The review comes after the Sunday Star-Times revealed that the manual, which was written in 2003, defined three "subversive" groups as a security risk - hostile intelligence services, extreme organisations and investigative journalists.

It warns about such groups seeking to bring the government into disrepute or "weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens".

Opposition defence spokesman Phil Goff said it was "utterly wrong and intolerable" for the military's top brass to display such paranoia about journalists, showing they did not understand the media's role in a democratic society.

"The defence force leadership has confused national security with a desire not to be embarrassed by what investigative journalists might discover about any shortcomings on their part," he said.

"That is reminiscent of the Nixon White House and has no place in our political system."

The Sunday Star-Times also alleged that the military asked US intelligence to monitor the phone calls of a New Zealand journalist who was in Afghanistan last year reporting on the activities of the elite SAS unit.

Mr Coleman said the defence force had told him there was no evidence that any such monitoring had occurred.

"(The military) has assured me that this is not something that they would regard as a legitimate practice," he said.

Mr Goff said the situation raised further doubts about moves to expand the power of intelligence services so they can spy on New Zealanders, particularly after it was revealed that Internet mogul Kim Dotcom was illegally snooped upon before his arrest in January last year.

The expanded powers, backed by Prime Minister John Key, are due to go to parliament this week and are expected to be passed by a narrow majority.

"After the Kim Dotcom debacle and revelations about activities of spy agencies in the US and UK, a wide cross-section of New Zealanders have no confidence in our intelligence agencies," Mr Goff said.

"The government should be focused on the transparent operations of these key agencies, rather than ramming through an extension to their powers."

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