Craig vs Slater: What the judge said about me

His honour Justice Toogood also made some very important comments about, how I handled the story and my own personal ethics in covering stories: Quote:

[20] On Mr Slater’s counterclaim, I have held that I do not accept that:
(a) Mr Slater spread lies about Mr Craig; or
(b) made up allegations about him; or
(c) gathered information that he knew was fake or untrue; or
(d) published material on Whaleoil knowing it not to be true.

[21] I am satisfied Mr Slater is neither a compulsive nor a calculated liar.

[22] I have held, therefore, that Mr Craig’s defence of truth to Mr Slater’s counterclaim fails.   

[23] To reach the conclusions on key issues I have been required to decide, I applied these significant principles of law to the facts I have found to be proved on a balance of probabilities:
(a) For the purposes of this case −
(xi) There is no principled reason for holding that the law should impose on a blogger or commentator like Mr Slater a different standard for the responsible communication of facts from that which is applied to a national newspaper, radio station or television channel.
(b) Mr Slater held personal animosity towards Mr Craig, and knew and intended that his communications would have a damaging political outcome for him, but he was principally motivated to release into the public arena information which would inform public discussion on a matter of undoubted public interest. To hold that Mr Slater was deprived of the defence of responsible communication on a matter of public interest, merely because of his views about Mr Craig, would be to tilt the balance between freedom of expression on a matter of public interest and protection of reputation too far in favour of the latter. Such a finding would have an unduly chilling effect on political discourse of the kind which the public interest defence is designed to recognise.

[475] Mr Slater described himself as a journalist who was “a proud fiscal conservative and social liberal”. He said that no one would be under any illusions about where he stands on things. He argued that the difference between himself and other journalists is that he never writes anything that does not agree with his “libertarian and conservative viewpoints that champion personal responsibility and small government.” Mr Slater described journalists in the mainstream news media as keeping their political views to themselves and pretending to be fair and balanced but said that, when you looked at their writings, you can see there is a clear bias there. Those views influenced Mr Slater’s approach to the maintenance of journalistic standards of conduct in his writing. Although Whaleoil had previously been a member of the Online Media Standards Association (now folded into the New Zealand Media Council), he no longer bound himself to those standards or to the procedure for addressing complaints that members had breached any standard. Mr Slater explained that he became disaffected when his political opponents used the OMSA standards as a foundation for making vexatious and time-consuming complaints against him, all but one of which were dismissed.

[480] I accept that Mr Slater and other publishers of blog sites like Whaleoil are of a different kind from publishers of record, such as major newspapers that have a large circulation and whose editorial and news-gathering functions are considered professional and typically authoritative. It is not to be expected, therefore, that bloggers and those who use social media to express their opinions would or should accept the constraints of the New Zealand Media Council’s principle that, on controversial issues, “a fair voice must be given to the opposition view”. But that is not to say that, if Mr Slater and Whaleoil are found to have made an untrue statement of fact, they should be held to a different standard of responsibility when seeking the protection of a defence founded on responsible communication. Mr Slater’s propositions, in my view, tend to conflate the distinct concepts of statements of fact and expressions of opinion.

[483] There is no principled reason, in my view, for holding that the law should impose on a blogger or commentator like Mr Slater a different standard for the responsible communication of facts from that which is applied to a national newspaper, radio station or television channel. After all, an untrue defamatory statement published by a news media organisation and the same untrue defamatory statement published by a blogger are no different in character. What is likely to differ is the effect of the untrue statement on the reputation of the plaintiff. That is a matter going to the determination of a remedy.

[487] Mr Slater also considered Mr Craig to be unsuited to the leadership of the Conservative Party and to be elected to Parliament to represent a conservative point of view. His motivation was philosophical; he had no stake in the political futures of Mr Craig or the Conservative Party. It is immaterial that Mr Slater knew that Mr Craig’s prospects would be adversely affected if he published information likely to damage Mr Craig’s political credibility by exposing him as a person who had manipulated and sexually harassed a younger woman who was an employee; misled his Conservative Party colleagues about the true nature of his relationship with Ms MacGregor; acknowledged the truth of the allegations of sexual harassment by reaching a financial settlement in return for which the formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission was withdrawn; and insisted on the confidentiality of the terms of the settlement so that Mr Craig could maintain to the Conservative Party board and in public that the allegations of sexual harassment were unfounded.

[488] There was widespread speculation about MrCraig’s relationship with Ms MacGregor within the Conservative Party and among political journalists and commentators such as Mr Soper and Mr Hooton. It is important to my analysis of Mr Slater’s motivation that, as I explain below, Mr Slater was the only commentator who had seen what he was entitled to regard as reliable evidence of Mr Craig’s romantic and sexual interest in Ms MacGregor and evidence from a source directly associated with MsMacGregor (MrWilliams) about the making of the sexual harassment claim and its settlement. That placed him in the position of being able to make allegations of fact with a greater degree of confidence than that held by journalists or commentators who were not privy to the information he had received. Against the background of widely publicised rumours about Mr Craig’s conduct, Mr Slater performed, in my view, an important role in breaking the news that the rumours had substance and could be proved.

[489] Undoubtedly, Mr Slater held personal animosity towards Mr Craig, and knew and intended that his communications would have a damaging political outcome for him, but he was principally motivated to release into the public arena information which he genuinely considered to be reliable and which would inform public discussion on a matter of undoubted public interest. To hold that Mr Slater was deprived of the defence of responsible communication on a matter of public interest in such circumstances would be to tilt the balance between freedom of expression on a matter of public interest and protection of reputation too far in favour of the latter. In my view, it would have an unduly chilling effect on political discourse of the kind which the public interest defence is designed to recognise.

[491] In terms of the news media commentary on what was unquestionably a significant political event on 19 June 2015, time was of the essence. Responsible news media outlets would reasonably be expected to provide not only information about what had occurred and what they knew or reasonably believed, but also to comment on the implications shortly after the press conference. Having regard to the circumstances, including what information Mr Slater had obtained prior to the Newstalk ZB interview, it would be unreasonable to expect him to have undertaken further inquiries to verify what I accept he genuinely believed to be the facts. I consider Mr Slater was entitled to consider it would legitimately serve the public interest for him to broadcast information confirming the rumours which were being widely discussed in public.

[493] In my assessment, this is one of the exceptional cases in which a failure to seek a comment from the target of a news story does not weigh against the maker of the statement claiming the protection of the public interest defence. Mr Slater was aware of Mr Craig’s evasive responses to inquiries by board members; his denial of impropriety when questioned by a journalist earlier that day; his failure to acknowledge the speculation about his relationship with MsMacGregor when resigning, and his refusal to answer any questions from journalists attending the press conference at his invitation. Mr Slater was entitled to assume, therefore, that Mr Craig would not provide any information about his relationship with Ms MacGregor and the reasons for her resignation beyond a bare denial of impropriety, and that asking him for comment would be futile. It might have been appropriate in other circumstances for Mr Slater to obtain confirmation of the allegations directly from Ms MacGregor but, in my view, he was entitled to rely on the information provided by her through Mr Williams (albeit without her approval) which included a degree of corroboration.

[523] I find that the defendants are entitled to rely on the public interest defence to this cause of action, despite finding that the allegation about the chaperone is an untrue statement of fact which was defamatory of Mr Craig. I have held that Mr Slater possessed sufficient information to entitle him to responsibly make public allegations about Mr Craig sexually harassing Ms MacGregor; sending her sexually oriented written messages that were unwelcome; providing her with a substantial financial benefit in exchange for her not pursuing a justifiable claim that he had sexually harassed her, and misleading the board intentionally about the nature of his behaviour with and towards Ms MacGregor and the foundation and merits of her allegations against him. Mr Slater was entitled to rely on an allegation made during an interview carried on a breakfast television programme between an experienced journalist and a member of the Conservative Party board, Mr Stringer, containing a statement that a chaperone system had been put in place. I hold that view notwithstanding that Mr Slater knew about Mr Stringer’s animosity towards Mr Craig. Moreover, the publication in Whaleoil included extracts from a report by the New Zealand Herald quoting from Ms Owen’s interview of Mr Stringer on The Nation, in which the Herald reported that chaperones had been appointed to Mr Craig to try and shift public perceptions of him. Mr Slater argued, and I accept, that it was not irresponsible of him to assume that the New Zealand Herald considered the information to be reliable.

[524] I find in the circumstances that it was not irresponsible of Mr Slater and Whaleoil to re-publish statements made by Mr Stringer to an established television broadcaster which had been quoted in a leading New Zealand newspaper. Both media organisations are bound by journalistic standards requiring accuracy, fairness and balance. For those reasons, notwithstanding that I have held the statement of fact about the chaperones to be false and defamatory of Mr Craig, the public interest defence succeeds.

[590] Properly analysed, this piece was merely a political commentary of the kind protected from a defamation claim by the law and the claim based upon it must fail. End quote.

In my counterclaim against Colin Craig, His honour notes: Quote:

[625] I am satisfied that the admitted imputations in both the first and second causes of action in Mr Slater’s counterclaim are defamatory. Mr Slater is a journalist and serious political commentator. He espouses principles which include a recognition of the importance of accuracy in reporting facts and of dealing honestly with people who might provide him with information and with his readership. Allegations that he is a liar and that, in publishing material in relation to Mr Craig he made up material, gathered information he knew was fake or untrue and published the same knowing it not to be true were likely to lower his reputation as a journalist and commentator in the eyes of right-thinking members of society, and to damage his reputation professionally.

[629] For the reasons given in making those findings, I do not accept that Mr Slater spread lies about Mr Craig; made up allegations about him; gathered information that he knew was fake or untrue; or published material on Whaleoil knowing it not to be true. I am satisfied he is neither a compulsive nor a calculated liar. It follows that Mr Craig has not proved that the pleaded imputations are either true or materially true in substance. For those reasons, the defence of truth fails in regard to the counterclaim causes of action.


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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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