A judge has ruled that Cameron Slater’s blog Whale Oil was “not a news medium within the definition of … the Evidence Act. It is not a means for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observation on news”. NZ herald reports:
Slater blog site cannot claim to be part of the news media, ruling says
A blogger…has been ordered to reveal confidential sources after a judge ruled his site was not a “news medium”.
The landmark ruling was made in a defamation case against Cameron Slater, founder of the Whale Oil site, who is being sued by Auckland businessman Matthew Blomfield.
Judge Charles Blackie said Slater was not entitled to rely on journalists’ rights to protect the identity of sources, as set out in the Evidence Act.
In a ruling made on September 26, Blackie said Slater’s blog was “not a news medium within the definition of … the Evidence Act.
“It is not a means for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observation on news”.
Blackie cited the Law Commission’s report News Media Meets ‘New Media’ which described blog sites as often “highly partisan” and “highly offensive and personally abusive”.
That doesn’t make sense.
Yes, blogs can be highly partisan – main stream media is often accused of being that too.
Yes, blogs can often be highly offensive and personally abusive. Including the Whale Oil blog, but it is often also “a means for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observation on news”.
While Whale Oil may at times be offensive and abusive that shouldn’t eliminate the blog from being a disseminator of news and observation on news – I think Slater’s blog clearly fits that role at times.
Judge Phil Gittos ordered Slater to present the identity of his sources in the Blomfield defamation case to the court, to be sealed in a file pending the outcome of the appeal.
The defamation case arose from stories Slater wrote last year which Blomfield claimed were defamatory.
Slater told the court a source gave him a hard drive belonging to Blomfield, which he used to write much of the material.
Blomfield said that by accessing Slater’s emails he would be able to determine whether they were written with malice, a key consideration in determining defamation.
And he argued Slater had “none of the checks and balances” of a news organisation.
“He sits at his computer and hits send.”
Blomfield applied to have Slater jailed for contempt of court for refusing to comply with the earlier order of Judge Blackie.
Judge Gittos said this would not be appropriate.
While Slater said his resources had ‘expired’ and he could no longer afford legal representation he would contest the ruling.
The report confusingly mentions two judge. Judge Blaikie made the ruling in October so presumably Judge Gitmos ruiled at a hearing last week.
At a hearing in the Manukau District Court last week, Slater said he intended to appeal against the decision, and was given 28 days to file proceedings with the High Court.
“There is little doubt that I am part of the media. I will strenuously defend my right to protect my sources.”
NZH also confusingly mixes Len Brown in their story but the Auckland mayor appears to have nothing to do with this ruling, unless they are hinting at something here:
The ruling could open the floodgates for others to sue the right-wing blogger for defamation to find out who has given him information.
This will be of interest and could be a concern for other bloggers.
UPDATE: Whale Oil has posted a detailed response to the Herald article
…plus a response from Blomfield: