Stephen Franks is asking for donations to help Judith Collins with her defamation case against Andrew Little and Trevor Mallard. He believes it is a matter of principle and because he believes that Mallard and Little have become scofflaws:
Why support a defamation action?
For simple reasons:
- Passionate belief in freedom of speech;
- That freedom will not survive if abusers of the freedom face no cost;
- Licencing and other preventative powers to protect reputations will be abused;
- Governments would abuse general powers to punish for lying after the fact. They’d call unfashionable or unwelcome free speech lying;
- After the fact defamation lawsuits, where truth is a complete defence, are a safe and sufficient deterrent and a remedy for calculated lying.
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. They might fairly complain that they’ve been mislead into that – our indulgent and indulged court system has effectively made many rights unenforceable for all but the rich (and the very poor who can get legal aid).
Perhaps only mugs now worry about accuracy in political mudslinging. Defamation law was wounded when judges changed the law so that politicians became fair game for careless falsehood. David Lange was deprived of his right to vindication by that judicial activism. Journalists rightly hate defamation law nevertheless because it provides no protection against those who file baseless gagging actions, relying on a publisher’s fear of uncompensated legal costs even with complete victory.
But flaws can be readily repaired. Until then I support defamation law because the alternatives are worse.
He explains why it is very important to fight “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.
Contesting for power and influence with words instead of force was the shining goal of the thousands who’ve died for free speech. I’d rather pay money to protect that freedom than the coin they paid.