Free speech versus political dishonesty

Stephen Franks comments on a well known defamation case in Donations for freedom of speech:

I do not know whether Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little (both of whom I respect) made false statements about Judith Collins. If they were false I do not know whether they were calculated, reckless or just careless. That will be for a court to determine. But I do know they are scoffing at defamation law.

More importantly he looks at free speech versus “casual liars”.

Defamation law is the safeguard against false coin in the competitive marketplace of ideas. A Gresham’s law may apply in public debate, where unpunishable recklessness, and scandalous accusation would crowd out sober truth.

An assumption that usually you can trust what someone is telling you, and particularly your leaders or would-be leaders, is a vital element of social capital. New Zealand is currently a high trust country according the the World Values Survey.

High profile defamation cases remind casual liars they could pay a price help to preserve our trust in the honesty of others until proved otherwise. So proceedings that keep open the threat of a cost for reckless allegations are in the public interest.

There does need to be a way of addressing deliberate and repeat lying for political gain. Defamation law is far from ideal but it’s one of a limited number of options currently available.

More effective would be more public and media insistence on political honesty.

And more party and blog insistence on honesty would help too.

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