Misuse of Harmful Digital Communications Act?

Is this a legitimate use of the Harmful Digital Communications Act? Or a businessman being held to account by media using it to punish journalism?

Newsroom: Avery targets Newsroom over ‘digital harm’

Former New Zealander of the Year Sir Ray Avery has laid a complaint against Newsroom.co.nz under the Harmful Digital Communications Act over a series of news reports on his background, products and promises.

Avery has told Netsafe, the legal agent for considering complaints under the Act, the reports have caused him serious emotional distress and amount to a form of digital harm – and wants Newsroom to consider removing them and to agree not to write further news stories about him.

“Ray believes these are written with the purpose of harassing him and contain false allegations,” Netsafe has told Newsroom.

It is one of the first times the Act has been used against a media company publishing news reports. Most instances envisaged by Parliament and which have been the subject of complaints have been online and social media harassment.

I thought that was the intent of the Act. Rich business people have other legal options.

The law aims to deter, prevent and lessen harmful digital communications. This includes cyber bullying, harassment and revenge porn posted online through emails, text, websites, applications or social media.

Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said the Act did not exempt media coverage, although most complaints focused on individuals using digital media against other individuals. It was not up to his agency to determine if a breach of the Act had occurred but to try to resolve the dispute. It was for the complainant if he wanted to take the matter on to the district court.

Newsroom aren’t backing down

In his complaint, which Netsafe has referred to Newsroom for response, Avery cites five of the numerous stories this site has published on his planned public fundraiser of $4 million for LifePod incubators, his previous product promises, and the views of more than a dozen people who had worked with him in the past.

Newsroom found none of the three main products highlighted on his charity Medicine Mondiale’s website had gone into production, that the LifePod had not yet been granted international standards certification and clinical trials said to be underway in India could not be independently confirmed.

Exaggerated claims by media of his role at the Fred Hollows Foundation helping people regain their sight had been perpetuated over the years in coverage of his personal awards such as the 2010 New Zealander of the Year title.

Avery acknowledged in a taped interview with Newsroom that a key aspect of the LifePod fundraiser, that the products would help save one million babies, had been a ‘marketing’ number.

Last week, when the Netsafe complaint landed at Newsroom, we were ready to publish a further investigation – and did so – showing Avery emailed a University of Auckland researcher in 2015 trying to have a journal article on a trial of his Acuset IV drip product suppressed – telling the academic: “You really don’t want this from a career perspective”. Avery told Newsroom the university did not have his permission to publish the results of its research.

I obviously don’t know all the details, but on the surface I think this looks like an attempt to punish or coerce media coverage that Avery doesn’t like.

I don’t think this is what the Harmful Digital Communications Act was intended for.

(I may have been the first person taken to court over the Harmful Digital Communications Act, in 2015. The numpties tried it on a year before it came into effect, and an embarrassed judge quickly threw it out when this was pointed out. One of those numpties is still trying to blame their incompetence on the Court.)

5 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  September 11, 2018

    Is Netsafe competent to umpire these kinds of disputes?

  2. Tipene

     /  September 11, 2018

    The media enjoy qualified privilege in their reporting, so getting a case over the line via the District Court would be a big ask, although Avery probably has the pockets to fund it.

    Avery would be better to look at a Defamation suit, if he thinks he has the defence to action it.

  3. Blazer

     /  September 11, 2018

    Avery got caught out big time.He trashed his own reputation…mind you he has been knighted,so that is to be…expected.

  4. Blazer

     /  September 12, 2018

    Lets see Avery perform…he has rescheduled for Febuary 2019,and said a company in Chennai is full speed ahead to manufacture these pods.
    Donors will be expecting him to deliver.