Why do people take a defamation action?

There is a case being heard in Wellington at the moment over an alleged defamation.

NBR reports [paywalled]:

Just when Truth newspaper bites the dust along comes a case that would have seen the old lady  shunt up her circulation in the days when television was all Phillip Sherry and Ena Sharples.

The Wellington defamation action against author and publisher Ian Wishart, taken by former New Zealand  diplomat Lindsay Smallbone, has it all. Not just sex, either, but voyeurism, threesomes and porn addiction, together with an unhealthy dose of infidelity, drug use, fraud and, well, you can really fill in just about anything and anyone you like.

The case involves a book, The Hunt, by George London and Mr Smallbone’s former wife and model Paulette London, whose tale involves her ultimately successful attempts to locate her abducted children. Mr Wishart represents himself in the proceeding, with Justice Joe Williams acknowledging he appears “well able to defend himself” under vigorous cross-examination from Mr Smallbone’s lawyer, Peter McKnight.  

Mr Wishart has stoutly defended his work, including the attacks on him for not checking the comments about Mr Smallbone, variously described as “sleazy”, “salacious”, “disgusting” and “scurrilous”. Mr Wishart says he is simply someone who has reported the “testimony” of Paulette London, as given to him by various phone interviews and recorded on a digital recorder that he had since wiped.

He explains he regards the comments about Mr Smallbone as necessary for a “warts and all” story and that he accepts her comments as being truthful without requiring him to put them to the plaintiff himself.

Mr Smallbone, now resident in London and providing the court with the appearance of a sophisticated patrician, has expressed the disgust he feels for the contents of the book and its defamatory and untrue stories about him in a relationship that ended 40 years ago.

I struggle to see how Lindsay Smallbone benefits from taking this action. For a start most of us have hardly heard of the book, less have read it…but now all the things he objects to being published are now being published because it is being brought up in an open court.

Surely silence would have been a better option? Now way more people get to hear all about the “salacious” and “sordid” details that he so desperately wants kept quiet.

The other thing is that defamation is very, very difficult to get across the line, even if you do win proving what your damages are (especially if you someone who is a banned director and a former bankrupt) is again exceedingly difficult to get satisfaction from.

The action simply allows the defendant to explore at great length why they wrote what they wrote, and why they believe what they wrote and the reasons for it…airing all those very things that the plaintiff wanted kept quiet in the first place.

I do wonder at the thought processes that go into such actions.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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