Shadbolt, Southland Times no guilty of defamation

Invercargill mayor says that a defamation case in which he was found not guilty the local government equivalent of the David Lange defamation case.

The case pitted a city councillor against her mayor (and the local newspaper).

RNZ – Defamation trial: Not guilty verdict good for councils – Shadbolt

A jury on Friday found Mr Shadbolt and the Southland Times newspaper not guilty of defaming Karen Arnold in a series of columns in 2014 and 2015.

Ms Arnold had argued she was portrayed by the mayor in the columns as unprofessional and a leaker of confidential documents.

Mr Shadbolt said the verdict was highly significant for freedom of speech.

“If we really want to criticise our mayors or if our mayors want to cristicise their councillors, it certainly gives a lot more room for them to do that and I think as a result it will lead to much healthier debate around the council table.”

Mr Shadbolt said his case was the local government equivalent of the David Lange defamation case 20 years ago.

Stuff (which includes the Southland Times): Defamation proceedings against Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and Stuff fail

Invercargill City councillor Karen Arnold had sued Shadbolt and Stuff, formerly Fairfax Media, for defamation over comments made by Shadbolt in four columns published in The Southland Times in 2014 and 2015.

She claimed a number of defamatory meanings could be drawn from the columns, which discussed her position on council matters, including the council’s trading company Holdco and a proposed kākāpō display.

The meanings alleged by Arnold included that she was dishonest, had leaked confidential documents, had colluded with a defunct ratepayers group and had acted inappropriately by engaging in debate about the “kākāpōrium” after declaring a conflict of interest.

The jury found Arnold had proved some of the alleged meanings, but did not find any of these to be defamatory. However, after the verdict, the judge granted her lawyers’ request to make a court application to determine whether the verdicts for the first three columns were legally sound.

Arnold is considering whether to appeal.

Stuff editorial director Mark Stevens said he was pleased with the jury’s decision.

“We always felt that at the heart of this case was the very important editorial principle of freedom of expression and it’s great for the industry and the craft of journalism to have this outcome”.

Speaking outside the courthouse Shadbolt said he was “absolutely relieved” by the decision, which came three years after the statements in question.

During the trial his lawyer had warned a decision against his client could have a chilling effect on political speech, however Shadbolt said the jury had sided with “freedom of speech and freedom of expression”.

“It’s a landmark case and it’s also a defence not just of sincere conversation, but of satire, humour, being able to enjoy politics, which I’ve always tried to do.”

Shadbolt said the decision had confirmed those in local government could “express ourselves”, but rejected the working relationship between him and Arnold would be strained as a result: “I think both parties will be very keen to get back … to work”

That working relationship must have changed after this.

In his closing address, Stuff’s lawyer Robert Stewart asked the jury if the meanings alleged would be evident to a reasonable reader or to someone “who sees conspiracies that don’t exist”.

Arnold’s lawyer Peter McKnight said the meanings were clear. He told the court Shadbolt “loathed” his client, that there was no factual basis for his statements and he was simply “out to give Karen Arnold some decent swipes”.

The sentiment was denied by the Shadbolt camp. His lawyer Felix Geiringer said that while it was true the pair did not “get on”, he was within his rights to criticise her and otherwise he was giving his opinion on local political matters.

Some big name out of town lawyers there. It won’t have been a cheap trial for any of the parties.

Arnold alleged Stuff was irresponsible and reckless in the way it published the columns, in part because only one staff member – long-term Southland Times features editor Mike Fallow – checked them without referral to editor Natasha Holland or a lawyer.

This, in McKnight’s reckoning, was “totally irresponsible”. However, Stuff’s chief executive Sinead Boucher said she would have personally published the columns and the checking process they went through was appropriate for a modern news organisation.

Geiringer told the jury freedom of speech was particularly important in this case. He argued there would be a chilling effect on political speech and publishers’ willingness to provide a platform if the jury found against his client.

Their decision would have, he said, a “substantial impact on the society we live in”, whereas McKnight contended it was “very important that we as a society protect the reputations of politicians from unwarranted attack”.

There is a well known precedent that specifically applies to criticism of politicians.

The case provided a basis for the Lange defence – a legal precedent that allowed news organisations to report harsh criticism of politicians, provided they were not reckless or motivated by malice – to apply not just to parliamentarians, but local body politicians.

TEARA: David Lange, defamation and media freedom

In the October 1995 issue of North and South magazine, political scientist Joe Atkinson suggested that former Prime Minister David Lange had been too lazy to take on the difficult aspects of that job. The accompanying cartoon played with the article’s suggestion that Lange suffered from ‘false-memory syndrome’ in his portrayal of himself as prime minister – as well as his comments about hotel breakfasts in New Zealand.

David Lange, defamation and media freedom

Lange considered the article (and cartoon) to be defamatory and took Atkinson to court in 1996.

After the case went through a series of courts, the Court of Appeal eventually decided that journalists had a defence of ‘qualified privilege’ – meaning that they could criticise politicians on the basis of their ‘honest belief’. The findings in the case have given New Zealand media greater freedom to comment on the performance of politicians.

The Southland case is different in that it was a councillor versus the mayor.

 

WO: political threats against Auckland councillor

This looks like political threats at Whale Oil against Auckland City councillor Denise Lee, under the name of ‘Cameron Slater’ in Will Denise Lee suffer at List Ranking?

National candidate for Maungakiekie Denise Lee surprised everyone in National when she voted for Phil Goff’s pillow tax.

Whale Oil may still speak for some in National with particular interests but nowhere near “everyone in National”.

This was despite a lot of lobbying from National Party Board Member Alastair Bell, who was trying to ensure National candidates actually followed party policy, and listened to him.

Obviously Denise failed to do either, so there are a lot of angry people in National who can’t believe National have a candidate who basically rolls over whenever anyone puts some pressure on her.

A very ironic claim about ‘anyone’ putting pressure on Lee.

This may be just posturing from WO, but if it is accurate I think it is alarming.

Lee is an Auckland City councillor, representing and acting for the people of Auckland.

She is also a National candidate, standing for an electorate and presumably also after a party list position.

There are a number of local body politicians standing in this year’s general election. They will need to campaign for their parties, but while they are still local body politicians they need to separately do their jobs there independently of their future aspirations.

It is alarming to see what looks to me like political blackmail – Lee voted differently to what Whale Oil/Slater/whoever wanted so they are attacking her and apparently threatening her chances on the National Party list selection.

I doubt that Slater actually has much if any input into the National Party list, especially given how much he criticises and attacks the party, the Prime Minister and other ministers and MPs.

The tipline has been running hot that Alastair Bell is furious because he has been made to look like a right fool by Denise, and his clients are very, very unhappy with him.

Without corroboration or specifics “tipline has been running hot” is WO hot air. My tipline is running hot that Slater is an arse.

Who are Alistair Bell’s clients and what do they have to do with this?

So now there is talk of a plan to give Denise a very low list position so she learns quickly that you cannot defy National Party policy and expect to get away with it, even if you are from the wet or Nikki Kaye wing of the National Party.

So now there is talk of a plan by shadowy political operatives using Whale Oil to publish barely veiled threats against a city councillor and national election candidate.

And they can’t resist dissing a successful National MP and minister in the process.

Let’s see how she copes when the rumoured third party campaign, funded by angry moteliers, gets underway against her.

This looks more like the ‘dirty politics’ part of Whale Oil in action, it certainly doesn’t look like journalism.

No supported facts, just ‘rumours’. Rumour mongering and Whale Oil are not strangers. Neither are dirty politics and Slater.

This Whale Oil post has tried to present itself as representing the views of “everyone in National” and “a lot of angry people in National”.

What it shows is that Whale Oil is still being used to target and threaten sitting local body politicians and general election candidates.

And it smells dirty. Not just against Denise Lee. This may also be deliberately trying to muddy National’s election campaign. WhaleOil/Slater has been showing signs of campaigning against National for some time, and dirtiness seems to be starting to kick in.

Local Body deserters

There’s been a number of people who have only recently been elected to local body councils talking about putting themselves forward to stand in the general election.

Apart from the cost any by-elections will impose on the councils, this shows either a shoddy lack of commitment to a three year term they sought from voters less than half a year ago, or a cynical using of their positions as a stepping stone to national politics.

here are some I have heard of just over the last couple of weeks.

Auckland: Denise Lee seeking Maungakiekie MP nomination

Maungakiekie-Tamaki Councillor Denise Lee hopes to bag a National Party nomination and replace outgoing Maungakiekie MP Peseta Sam Lotu-liga when he retires later this year.

Lotu-liga announced in December he would not be seeking re-election of the Auckland seat prompting Lee to jump at the opportunity.

She was re-elected as Maungakiekie-Tamaki Councillor last year after securing the majority of votes.

“When you get selected twice as councillor, and the last time with the majority of votes, it is a good sign that you’re a good representative to serve the people well,” Lee said.

A good representative doesn’t jump off their three year council gig after a few months just because of political opportunism.

Hastings’ mayor Lawrence Yule to seek Tukituki nomination

On Friday he announced he was planning to seek the National Party’s nomination for the Tukituki electorate, after 15 years as mayor or Hastings.

A large number of locals, along with members of the National Party had encouraged him to run, he said.

“I did not expect Craig Foss to resign, now I have to deal with that opportunity. I have been pretty humbled by the number of people who have approached me to stand.  I think I can make a difference in Wellington, for the people of Tukituki, and for the National Party,” he said.

Deal with an opportunity for himself and stuff the people who voted him as mayor, and will have to fund his ship jumping if he succeeds.

Wellington:  Paul Eagle looks at running in Rongotai as Annette King heads for list

Less than three months after becoming Wellington’s deputy mayor, Paul Eagle is eyeing up a seat in Parliament.

Eagle said he was considering calls from Labour Party members to contest Rongotai, the Wellington electorate seat long held by the party’s deputy leader, Annette King.

If he did contest Rongotai, he would stay on as deputy mayor  – though he may drop some portfolios – but said there would be “a resignation immediately” if he won the seat.

So he would ditch some of his council responsibilities to suit his own ambitions, essentially using his deputy mayor salary to tide himself through a national election campaign and only resign if how won the seat.

How convenient for him – and inconvenient and expensive for his council.

And there’s two Green councillors here: Nelson byelection could be parting gift from councillors bound for Beehive

An $80,000 byelection could be on the cards for Nelson if two city councillors buzz off to the Beehive.

Second-term councillor Matt Lawrey is the Green Party candidate for Nelson in this year’s general election, while third-term councillor Kate Fulton is still waiting to hear if she’ll win her bid for the West Coast-Tasman candidacy.

If either win the electoral seats, or are placed in Parliament as Green Party List MPs, Nelson City Council will foot the bill for an $80,000 by-election.

So Lawrey is already committed to being a part time councillor, part time general election campaigner.

Councillor Matt Lawrey said it might be time to revisit the legislation that governs how city councillors are replaced.

“[It] does raise questions, and maybe it’s time we looked at changing the system so in the event of a councillor dying or having to leave the role, the next highest polling candidate gets a seat at the table,” Lawrey said.

“That would certainly be a cheaper and more efficient way of doing things.”

But Lawrey is not “having to leave the role”, he is trying to switch jobs mid term because it suits him. A cheaper way of replacing councillors might help him justify his lack of commitment, but it’s not good practice.

But Chief Electoral Officer at electionz.com Warwick Lampp said the legislation ensured fair process in cases where the next highest polling candidate received significantly fewer votes than the winning candidate.

“I think you could legitimately argue that the community didn’t want that person and then they’ve [been given] them… It has to go back to the democratic function with a completely new election, where anyone can stand,” Lampp said.

The highest polling failed candidate could have got hardly any votes.

And it’s not very fair on candidates who put time and money into standing in the local body elections and just miss out for successful candidates to desert at their convenience.

Are there any others who have announced their wish to desert their elected position just  a few months in to a three year term?

Councillor’s family racially snubbed

The Samoan family of new Auckland councillor Efeso Collins were refused allocated seating at his swearing in ceremony. This is appalling in the city with the largest Polynesian population in the world (about 200,000 or 15% of the population).

efeso-collins

RNZ: ‘Racial discrimination’ mars Auckland councillor’s swearing-in

The Tuesday evening ceremony was a proud moment for Efeso Collins, who was the first in his family with a university education and was sworn in as one of two representatives in the Manukau Ward in south Auckland.

But the joy wasn’t fully shared by his wife, daughter and elders, who were refused their allocated seating in the councillor’s family area at the Auckland Town Hall.

“My family was told that they couldn’t sit where they were because that was reserved for council guests, and that’s when my wife said ‘We are council guests’, but no one believed them,” he said.

In the formal atmosphere of a gala-style ceremony, Mr Collins had no doubt as to what happened to his Samoan relatives.

“The fact that we don’t look ‘normal’, and that’s the problem – too many people offering the suggestion, which is essentially racially discriminatory, that brown people don’t belong there.”

The lack of Polynesian representation is in part due to ongoing racism.

He said Auckland Council needed to break down racial preconceptions.

“If I’m still being challenged like that now, you can imagine the experience of the very people I represent, where every day we’re confronted with this type of thinking.”

New Zealand and Auckland in particular are multicultural by numbers but  entrenched European attitudes are still apparent.

The council’s general manager of democracy services, Marguerite Delbet, said she was appalled and mortified after looking into the incident, calling the staff member’s behaviour “completely unacceptable” and has apologised profusely.

Ms Delbet said the usher, who was employed by a council agency, had been very rude and tried to push away Mrs Collins.

“There really is no excuse,” she said.

There would appear to be no good excuse.

Mr Collins noted the strikingly Anglo-Saxon tone of the the inauguration ceremonies, of which this week’s was the Auckland Council’s third.

From the opening fanfare to the now customary performance of Handel’s Messiah, there are few signs of the evening being the work of a council elected by one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities.

Māori protocol is a given at council functions and the ceremony included a rendition of Pokarekare Ana by the Stellar Singers.

Mayor Phil Goff thought the evening’s mix was appropriate.

Tradition can be important but if Auckland is serious about wanting multicultural representation then the city has to move with the times.

The make up of Auckland population (from the 2013 census):

  • European 59.3%
  • Asian 23.1%
  • Pacific Island 14.6%
  • Maori 10.7%
  • Middle Eastern/Latin American/African 1.9%
  • New Zealanders 1.1%
  • Others 0.1%

I’m surprised so few identify as ‘New Zealander’. It’s likely that quite a few putting themselves down as ‘European’ have a mix of ethnicities.

Auckland Council recently spent $1.2 million in a voting campaign trying to convince the city’s different communities that it was relevant and important to them.

Perhaps they should spend a bit of time convincing their staff  of the importance of different communities.

Mr Collins wants to see future council inaugurations do better.

“Because it’s important that the wider population feels that they are being represented, that they can see their colours and flavours in it, and I think we need to do better to ensure that everybody feels a part of it.

“I don’t think we’ve got the diversity right in those inaugurations.”

Now he is a councillor Collins can perhaps push for deal with diversity better.

Watch: Efeso Collins makes his maiden speech at Auckland Council

Defamation: councillor v mayor

The acrimonious relationship between Dunedin City councillor Lee Vandervis and mayor Dave Cull continues with Cull being served legal papers on a Dunedin Street yesterday in  defamation proceedings.

This is a further sign of the degree of dysfunction in the Dunedin council.

ODT: $500,000 claim against Cull

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is vowing to defend a $500,000 defamation claim, after being served with legal papers while walking down the street yesterday.

Mr Cull was handed the documents by private investigator Wayne Idour near the corner of Bath and lower Stuart Sts yesterday morning.

The documents related to a defamation claim filed against him in the High Court at Dunedin by Cr Lee Vandervis earlier this month.

Mr Cull and Cr Vandervis were both reluctant to comment in detail when contacted, but both expressed regret the step had been taken.

But one or the other must have not been reluctant to go to the media over the serving of papers, unless a reporter just happened to have witnessed it. It’s likely that someone went public deliberately.

Mr Idour said when contacted he had planned to serve the papers on Mr Cull in the council’s Civic Centre building, but had seen the mayor passing by while sitting in Sugar Cafe.

“I was in there, having a coffee and talking, where I go most mornings, and he was walking rather fast down Stuart St. I saw him and shot out.

“I just took the time to explain what they were and handed them discreetly to him. He looked a wee bit shocked.”

Mr Idour said he was acting as “process server”, under a barrister’s instructions, and not working for Cr Vandervis.

Just a chance serving is possible but seems a bit unlikely. Serving the papers in public and then the media finding out seems a bit suspicious to me.

The serving of legal papers was followed last night by Cr Vandervis’ decision to release a copy of his statement of claim to media.

The document confirmed Cr Vandervis was seeking $250,000 in “general damages” and another $250,000 in “exemplary damages”, plus costs.

The claim followed a heated exchange during a Dunedin City Council meeting last year, when Cr Vandervis claimed to have paid a backhander to secure a council contract in the 1980s.

He was labelled “a liar” by Mr Cull and ejected from the meeting after suggesting he had given Mr Cull “personal evidence” to back his claim.

In May, both men claimed a report by internal auditor Crowe Horwath, examining the backhander claims, backed their positions.

Cr Vandervis then threatened to “double the damages” after Mr Cull stood by calling him a liar in the wake of the report.

And this is where it has ended up, serving papers in public.

The ODT understands the council had insurance to protect ratepayers from the cost of claims against elected representatives in their council duties, although it was not yet clear if a claim resulting from Mr Cull’s comments would be covered.

Ratepayers could still be left to pick up the bill for associated costs, including legal bills, should Mr Cull lose, the ODT understands.

Ratepayers pay in two ways – picking up some of the bill for this spat, and continuing to have a dysfunctional and acrimonious council.

Both Cull and Vandervis have indicated they will be standing for mayor and for council again this year.

But this reflects very poorly on both of them and on the Dunedin City Council.

I think that this obvious and ongoing inability to work together raises serious doubts about the suitability of either for serving the public on council in either capacity.

It’s time voters looked for elected representatives who don’t allow personal animosities to dominate their work for council and for Dunedin.