Karam defamation case a warning to blogs?

Joe Karam has had a major win in a defamation case taken against two men who waged a campaign against him in social media.

People who comment on blogs and Facebook and Twitter and other online forums should carefully consider the potential implications of this case. I often see similar sorts of false or unprovable claims and personal attacks.

Karam awarded $535,000 over defamation

Joe Karam has been awarded $535,000 in a defamation case against two men who launched an “all-out assault” on his reputation because of his support for David Bain.

The online comments by Kent Parker and Victor Purkiss accused Mr Karam of being dishonest in his motivations for helping Mr Bain after he was cleared in 2009 of murdering five members of his family.

Mr Karam said the public campaign against his integrity was the “worst four years” of his life, and Justice Patricia Courtney said she believed the former All Black.

She ordered Mr Parker to pay damages of $350,500 and Mr Purkiss to pay $184,500.

Justice Courtney also ordered that all defamatory messages be removed from the websites.

She further punished the men by awarding indemnity costs against them because they “behaved egregiously” in choosing to use the defence of truth at the trial last October.

Justice Courtney’s judgment noted evidence of Mr Karam’s “integrity, generosity and altruism”.

That’s huge damages, made significantly worse because they tried to use the defence of truth,

Mr Purkiss did not attend it, but Mr Parker admitted under cross-examination by Michael Reed, QC, that he could not prove his claims.

A belated admission that claims could not be proven.

The legal bill could be $500,000 according to Mr Karam, bringing to around $1 million the cost to the defendants. That would make it one of the largest defamation damages and cost awards in New Zealand history.

Mr Karam said if the pair did not pay him, he would take bankruptcy proceedings against them.

Purkiss has moved to England and according to the herald the defamation case “was a factor in the break-up of his marriage”. From social media warriors to being in family and financial crap.

This should be a warning to bloggers and blog commenters, Twitter and Facebook users.

There have been major discussions on Kiwiblog on the Bain case and that has included many criticisms of Karam, not dissimilar to what have been described in this case.

In her ruling, released yesterday, the judge identified about 50 defamatory statements published on Facebook and on a private website by Mr Parker and Mr Purkiss — members of the Justice for Robin Bain group — to which there was no defence.

Mr Karam said the men had made “an all-out assault on me [in] an attempt to show that I’m shonky”.

He and Fairfax NZ had earlier agreed to settle defamation claims, on a confidential basis, arising from articles on stuff.co.nz that drew attention to the websites that contained the defamatory comments by Mr Parker and Mr Purkiss.

People commenting anonymously may think they are immune from defamation but that could be put to the test legally.

And bloggers who allow open slather comments should note that Fairfax NZ has been also held responsible in this case and have settled privately. I frequently see potentially defamatory comments made on a number of blogs.

At times stalking and harassment of me could amount to “an all-out assault on me [in] an attempt to show that I’m shonky”, and I’ve seen many other examples.

Most people being attacked online don’t take defamation action and the attackers probably think they are safe from being held to account.

Parker and Purkiss probably thought they were untouchable and could make unsubstantiated claims with impunity. They may have thought they could exploit the power of free speech.

They may have believed their own hype and thought that believing something was sufficient justification for attacking someone’s integrity. This seems have continued “in choosing to use the defence of truth at the trial”.

Those who think they are safe attacking and defaming online should have a good look at this case.

A PDF of the decision here.

Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. I wondered when this kind of thing would happen. It was only a matter of time before a case like this to be a wake-up call

    Reply
  2. Dave Stonyer

     /  17th April 2014

    The high cost of legal fees is what stops most people from instigating similar actions against derogatory comments online from anonymous bloggers. Pity – a few of these gutless people need to be accountable.

    Reply
  3. Harriet Bond

     /  23rd April 2014

    Hmmm how many people has Karam sued so far in his quest to rewrite reality? quite a few.
    James MacNeish in his excellent book “The Mask of Sanity” could see where the Bain story was being hijacked and rewritten,; I would be interested to see what he makes of this latest pyrrhic victory for Karam.
    Kent Parker is well informed on the facts of the Bain case; you only need to see the Counterspin website to know that. Kudos for him to have the balls to defend his and our right to free speech. Thank you Kent.

    Reply
  1. More on social media and defamation | Your NZ

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