OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: You don't need double-talk – you need Bob Loblaw!

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  • Lyndon Hood,

    From Monty Python:
    Politicians: An Apology

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • cindy baxter,

    this legal action should keep Bell Gully busy for a while. They'll have to slapp Hard News, Kiwiblog, Poneke, Deltoid and the rest. The NZ Herald also ran the story...

    auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 99 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    'The people in the electorate of Selwyn deserve someone who is of immediate Cabinet material, I am able to offer that opportunity,' Mr Payne told the court."

    Wait. Courts can stop people standing for election if they're not of cabinet material?

    Wait! I've got a long list to develop, and some political parties are going to need to find some new warm bodies.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Thomas,

    kind of cunning really. that "correction & apology" is only going to make the Listener look like even bigger dickheads.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 317 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    this legal action should keep Bell Gully busy for a while. They'll have to slapp Hard News, Kiwiblog, Poneke, Deltoid and the rest.

    I bloody hope not. That would put me in a very difficult position, given that I have professional connections with publishers on both sides of the dispute -- which is why I'm refraining from commenting except to decry the involvement of the lawyers in this way. It sets a terrible precedent.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brislen,

    couldn't agree more. It makes my skin crawl. Journalists should settle these things like journalists, using the editorial column, not with lawyers.

    Just unacceptable.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brislen,

    PS - so an ad for BMWs, eh? What is the world coming to!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    PS - so an ad for BMWs, eh? What is the world coming to!

    The statistics say y'all's a bunch of wealthy mofos ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • insider outsider,

    Journalists should settle these things like journalists...

    What? A punch up at the Qantas Awards?

    Seriously, I can't see the handwringing over this. Russell might think I am being naive, but an experienced writer wrote a blog column that trashed an editor's decisions and reputation, doesn't appear to have checked out the other side of the story before doing so, and got a nasty letter from a lawyer pointing out the error of his ways.

    Is there anything that happened here that doesn't happen most weeks on newspapers and magazines that is especialy new and worrying?

    just because it was on a blog the usual writing and reporting rules don;t apply...?

    nz • Since May 2007 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Okay, on the basis that you're really not just being disingenuous ...

    Is there anything that happened here that doesn't happen most weeks on newspapers and magazines that is especialy new and worrying?

    Yes. You'll always have someone annoyed by what's been said about them -- usually they're offered the courtesy of a letter to the editor. Or perhaps a formal right of reply. In both cases you'd expect the original author to be notified and probably asked to respond.

    A legal threat of this level is rarely the first recourse -- and never in the case of a dispute between journalists or editorial organisations. There's a reason for that: because that would be to endorse conduct that would make robust but reasonable reporting perilous and perhaps impossible.

    Even a case that does not reach court will often cost five figures. A wealthy party has an enormous advantage over a less wealthy party in such circumstances. You can't stop other parties behaving this way, but I think I'm right in saying that the belief among journalists is that you don't do that to your own.

    The upshot of such conduct becoming commonplace as a first recourse is often referred to as a chilling effect.

    just because it was on a blog the usual writing and reporting rules don;t apply...?

    To an extent, yes. While it is quite possible to defame someone on the Internet, it's informally accepted that the blogosphere is by nature a more robust environment in which readers are capable of assessing the validity of comment on their own.

    If that wasn't the case, David Farrar's commenters would be earning him heavy letters most days of the week -- because under our law, he is the publisher of all the malicious tripe his worst offenders serve up. The single sentence highlighted by Steven Price was unwise -- it should have been phrased as a question -- but I invite you to think of the times you've said something in a blog comment of roughly the same nature.

    But the blog post in question clearly fell almost wholly in the domain of honest opinion, and the ludicrous dictated "correction" trampled all over the right to such opinion. Dammit, if Gareth Renowden wants to say he doesn't think The Listener's attitude to environmental issues is any good, or that it shouldn't give space to "climate cranks" he has every right to say so, and he shouldn't have to run an "apology" about it.

    This is a balance I have to strike all the time with discussions here. Fortunately, most of our readers are sensible -- but there's no doubt that that if this is a precedent, it's one that makes my job more perilous and more difficult.

    I should note that Bryan Leyland doesn't appear to have taken such action: he merely mentioned a Press Council complaint. Gareth Renowden has embarked on a similar complaint about Leyland's right-to-reply article. When various parties took a successful Press Council complaint against North & South over the 'Asian Angst' story (which resulted in no more than N&S having to print the decision) there were people like Stephen Franks wailing about "freedom of speech". It would be nice to near those people now.

    Any further questions?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    PS - so an ad for BMWs, eh? What is the world coming to!

    I clicked on it, then discovered, I could take one for a test spin. Better they are offering under there training program, the chance to push one to it's outer technological limits.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I clicked on it, then discovered, I could take one for a test spin. Better they are offering under there training program, the chance to push one to it's outer technological limits.

    Cool! You could make it an art event ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Cool! You could make it an art event ...

    Commercial art at that.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brislen,

    My problem with this is not in the disagreement between writer and editor, or even the disagreement between magazine and blogger, it's the way it's been "resolved" for want of a better word.

    Journalists should not threaten legal action against other journalists.

    That's it, really. It leaves a foul taste in the mouth and is unnecessary, especially if one participant is an editor. All they need do is write an editorial outlining what happened and why from their perspective and encouraging the blogger to write a letter. Debate occurs, readers potentially are interested and sales potentially go up. Everyone gets to say what they think and everyone wins.

    Writing is the basic tool of the journalist - resorting to legal threats is not. So why reach for the lawyers when a simple column would have done the trick?

    Having been on the wrong side of too many frivolous legal challenges myself (one is too many) I know what a mess it can make of your life. As a reporter you're not paid terribly well (freelancers get 40c/word on average. Actually, scratch that - they get that on a good day) and to suddenly be faced with an angry legal letter that not only suggests your publisher might be out of pocket (at the least for legal expenses if not for a settlement and/or damages) and that you might a: have to pay shitloads yourself or b: best case never work in this town again, is something that keeps reporters up at night. Well, it did this one.

    Journalists don't sue journalists. They buy a round and argue till they fall over. They write columns and letters and get grumpy but they don't sue each other.

    It's a simple philosophy but it's all mine. Sorry for the ranting. At least Russell's post was longer...!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    Commercial art at that.

    If I was to try the limits of a new beemer, it'd be origami

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report Reply

  • insider outsider,

    Okay, on the basis that you're really not just being disingenuous ...

    Why would you even think that? Just because someone disagrees with your POV? Or blog weariness?

    What's interesting in yours and Paul's posts is a whole range of assumed unwritten 'rules' about polite behaviour between media organisations.

    The problem i have is that it does give the appearence of special pleading. maybe you are just reflecting the practical realities/difficulties of what you do. But you are also mixing up the treatment/behaviours of mainstream media with individual media like blogs, which I think is risky.

    But if you want blogs to be treated like fellow media and you want the mainstream to follow these 'rules' when dealing with them, surely the expectation goes both ways?

    So where were the most basic journalistic behaviours in this case - checking your facts and balance? Nowhere that I could see.

    The post was prompted/written by two experienced media personalities on a site half-funded by a reasonably sized media organisation, yet they did not do the basics.

    Now maybe APN went nuclear too early, but they may have taken the view that they were not dealing with a responsible competitor, they were dealing with someone hostile, who had not contacted them, who had taken the opportunity to take the issue public and they wanted the offensive item removed.

    Hot Topic could have changed the post or temporarily withdrawn it while seeking advice. I'm not sure why they reacted as they did.

    A legal threat of this level is rarely the first recourse -- and never in the case of a dispute between journalists or editorial organisations. There's a reason for that: because that would be to endorse conduct that would make robust but reasonable reporting perilous and perhaps impossible.

    "never' is a big word - I think some of the ladies mags are quick to throw lawyers at intermag disputes.

    I think you are being overdramatic. I don't think media organisations would be cowed by threats. There are plenty of examples of media reporting on each other even in the face of threats. Private Eye almost makes a point of doing it and were famous for their pursuit of Maxwell. MEdia here have been pretty good at facing down threats from vested interests, eg Te Qaeda. They also seem to revel in each others' misfortune. So I don't think it will have any effect on robust reporting.

    It may impact some less savoury blogs - good thing too IMO. Freedom of speech is NOT unlimited. Perhaps there does need to be a reminder of that. There is some pretty shabby behaviour by bloggers and comment posters.

    The upshot of such conduct becoming commonplace as a first recourse is often referred to as a chilling effect.

    I think you are making a big leap that this might be commonplace. I also suspect that if it did, it would quickly lose its effect.

    But the blog post in question clearly fell almost wholly in the domain of honest opinion, and the ludicrous dictated "correction" trampled all over the right to such opinion.

    I disagree. I think there were some pretty nasty accusations there that came from adding 2+3 and getting 7. Plus I have issues about them not revealing some key information early on.

    Dammit, if Gareth Renowden wants to say he doesn't think The Listener's attitude to environmental issues is any good, or that it shouldn't give space to "climate cranks" he has every right to say so, and he shouldn't have to run an "apology" about it.

    You;re dead right but he didn't say that - he went a lot further. He accused them of rolling over under pressure and behaving badly over the events.

    This is a balance I have to strike all the time with discussions here. Fortunately, most of our readers are sensible -- but there's no doubt that that if this is a precedent, it's one that makes my job more perilous and more difficult.

    i'm not sure if it does. The rules haven't changed. APN went for the original post, not the comments and there were some fairly blunt ones about Pamela Stirling's actions, including from Dave hansford. It may be that a court might view blog comments as transitory and with little lasting effect while the orignal posts may be considered as more important.

    That said I think you are a braver man than me even before this issue.

    Any further questions?

    I think there are a whole lot more around defamation and the internet. It's a really interesting area. If I were going to change the law it would be that companies could not sue for defamation (cf McDonalds) only 'natural persons'.

    nz • Since May 2007 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I don't think I can say any more in general terms without touching on elements of the dispute I don't feel I should comment on.

    And if a media law specialist (Steven) and two former editors (Paul and I) can't mount an argument you deem credible, it might just be time to give up anyway.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth,

    Can I just say that I find it remarkable that i/o feels able to judge - with no knowledge of the facts beyond those published - exactly what went on/is going on. And that his "reading" of my original article is so different to everyone else's - except, perhaps, Ms Striling's.

    But then that's freedom of speech, I suppose.

    (And no, I will not be commenting on the facts of the matter. I am not at liberty to do so.)

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • insider outsider,

    Can I just say that I find it remarkable that i/o feels able to judge - with no knowledge of the facts beyond those published - exactly what went on/is going on.

    Sorry I'm not part of your " in crowd" and in on the big secrets. If you don't want these things discussed and people to make judgements, why do you post them on a public blog?

    You posted a story and passed judgement on Pamela stirling and the Listener and encouraged others to do the same based solely on what you published - did you even bother to ask her for her version? - and then you get sniffy that the same standard is applied to you.

    You don't see the slightest hypocrisy in that? What did you expect?

    If you think I am the only one with concerns about your post you need to read a bit more widely than your blog.


    And if a media law specialist (Steven) and two former editors (Paul and I) can't mount an argument you deem credible, it might just be time to give up anyway

    What? I am supposed to be so awestruck by the ranks serried against me that I just suspend my views? Don't be so fucking arrogant.

    I never said you weren't credible but most of what you said was just opinion, perhaps well informed, but still just opinion. I think there is a legitimate alternative view. If you can't see beyond your own, that says more about you than me.

    nz • Since May 2007 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    __And if a media law specialist (Steven) and two former editors (Paul and I) can't mount an argument you deem credible, it might just be time to give up anyway__

    What? I am supposed to be so awestruck by the ranks serried against me that I just suspend my views?.

    You asked why journalists might be exercised about the principle of going for the lawyers in this way. Paul and I have tried to explain on the basis of our experience, but we don't seem to have had any success in doing so.

    It's not about agreeing or otherwise with the Hot Topic post, but it's worth noting that Steven said: "For my part, I doubt Hansford was removed because of the column. The blog post is temperate enough that others have reached that view too."

    He also said: "The proper response would have been a one-line letter politely telling the Listener to sit on its thumb. I doubt that any further action would have been taken. But bloggers, and those who host their blogs, can’t always be that brave. That’s what makes leaning on assertions of legal rights in situations like this reprehensible, I think. I would have been much more persuaded by a thoughtful and factual response from the Listener’s editor on the blog itself setting out the magazine’s version of the story. It would have been much cheaper. And much more in keeping with the Listener’s commitment to open inquiry. And it wouldn’t have produced what’s likely to be an explosion of interest in the criticisms…"

    Don't be so fucking arrogant.

    Ah, but I'm not. And unless you sign your name to this apology-and-correction here, I'll delete all your arguments and commence legal action ...

    ;-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brislen,

    In many ways, IO, you're proving my point. This is exactly how we're supposed to settle things - debating the issue, driving traffic, giving the readers something to think about. Giving the writers something to think about.

    Legal action like this solves nothing - it doesn't achieve its goal of stopping the views being aired and discussed, it doesn't stop word of the banned topic from circulating. Truth doesn't want anything, least of all to be free, but censorship does get treated like damage and we do rout around it.

    So I'm happy to see you talking up your view point. Stick to your guns - don't be silenced. That's really what this whole issue is about. I usually argue my point of view not to try to change anyone else's point of view but simply to stop them from changing mine.

    Cheers

    Paul

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brislen,

    Oh, that reads far more sanctimoniously than I intended. Sorry about that. I'm genuinely pleased to see these issues getting an airing. I'm also chuffed it's not on my blog. Heh.

    Cheers

    Paul

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Private Eye almost makes a point of doing it and were famous for their pursuit of Maxwell.

    Well, since you brought it up... When Robert Maxwell died, I believe he had over a hundred libel cases in train and not all the defendants had proprietors with pockets as deep as those of Private Eye or The Times. One peculiarity of British libel law is that the burden of proof is on the defendant rather than on the plaintiff. Take the libel action David Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. Now, it may have turned out to be a spectacular own goal for Irving; but the defendants ran up costs in excess of three million pounds. And as far as I'm aware Irving has paid precisely nothing following an order for costs against him.

    Professor Lipstadt, personally, is still hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And no court order is going to give her back the years she spent on this case, or and hateful drivel like this which is probably going to follow her for the rest of her life.

    And you know the worse part of Irving v. Penguin & Lipstadt? It wasn't the first time he tried to use the British courts to intimidate British publishers into not printing work that subject his own writings to critical analysis. He just made the mistake of picking on an author and publisher who weren't willing to shut up for the sake of a quiet life.

    It also didn't hurt that Penguin is the second largest trade book publisher on Earth, and part of Pearson PLC, a not inconsiderable media conglomerate in its own right.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth,

    Sorry I'm not part of your " in crowd" and in on the big secrets. If you don't want these things discussed and people to make judgements, why do you post them on a public blog?

    I want people to discuss the issue. I would be better if I was able to talk freely, but that's not possible.

    I would very much prefer to focus on the activities of the NZ Climate "Science" Coalition, who are prepared to distort the truth beyond all recognition in pursuit of their political goals.

    You posted a story and passed judgement on Pamela stirling and the Listener and encouraged others to do the same based solely on what you published - did you even bother to ask her for her version? - and then you get sniffy that the same standard is applied to you.

    Again, I would simply say that your reading of the article is completely different to others. The construction you place on my words is possibly more extreme than even Bell Gully's.

    You don't see the slightest hypocrisy in that? What did you expect?

    Hypocrisy? Big words from an anonymous poster.

    Let me give you an example of how these things should work. Last year, I wrote a scathing review of the NZ Institute's first report on climate change policy. One of the authors was in touch straight away to argue her corner, and I was happy to publish a response from her on behalf of the NZI. The issues got a good airing, in posts and in the comments. There was heat and light. In this case, m'learned friends are helping pile on the heat, but there's precious little light being shed.

    That's the real pity.

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • insider outsider,

    Russell

    I think we are talking past each other. The risk is that journalists and bloggers are considered the same. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to want the journalist ‘rules’ built up over years to apply to bloggers.

    I don’t agree. Bloggers aren’t journalists and so the rules don’t apply. If they want them to apply they have to sign up to them and act accordingly. Journalists who blog should not ignore their professional and ethical standards on balance and accuracy and fairness.

    Unless you see this case as a seachange in the rules, I don’t see how a journalist acting professionally and ethically would be affected no matter what medium they operate in. I was taught that facts were sacred and that if you acted professionally/ethically you were pretty much safe. Craig pointed out Maxwell’s past antics and that has not had a chilling effect on media overall. But perhaps in this crazy online world the rules are anachronistic and that is the issue that requires debating not whether they apply or were followed.

    Gareth

    Thanks for the response. Your interest is in the efforts of the CSC. IMO they are fringe and the more attention you pay them the more credibility they get.

    My interest was in the way you reported their interactions with the Listener and the fall out. No ulterior motive, it’s just an interesting subject. The big difference I suspect with your NZI review (not read it) is that you probably attacked the analysis not the people and their motives, and so was fair comment. I think you crossed that line in the climate cranks post for reasons already outlined and so exposed yourself. We obviously differ on that interpretation, and that must be one of the great challenges of defamation law.

    nz • Since May 2007 • 142 posts Report Reply

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