A decision released yesterday by the Human Rights Review Tribunal that went against Cameron Slater is very clear. The gratuitous publication of personal details simply isn’t newsworthy in any news medium. There has to actually be something newsworthy to get the cover of the temporary exemption in the Privacy Act granted to news mediums.
This case has effectively made a decision on the bounds on protections that news mediums and blogs can expect from the Privacy Act. The only problem is that getting that decision 4-5 years late isn’t exactly a timely deterrent – which I will discuss later when I get time.
This relates to a complaint against Cameron Slater for publishing on the Whaleoil blog; the personal information, details and photos of Matthew Blomfield in a series of attack posts in 2012 (and later). These were largely sourced from a hard drive that appears to have been stolen from Blomfield. The series of posts were full of allegations against Blomfield – none of which appear to have been substantiated in any of the subsequent legal actions.
The Human Rights Review Tribunal added a further $70,000 to Cameron Slater’s burden in damages awarded to Matthew Blomfield. Of course Cameron Slater and the company that operates the Whaleoil site also has costs related to a series of defamation actions against him and the future awards of damages from those.
At issue in these proceedings is an allegation by the Director of Human Rights Proceedings (Director) that between 1 May 2012 and 7 October 2012 Mr Slater published on that website and on three others at least 46 documents containing personal information about Mr Matthew Blomfield, a business consultant who lives in Auckland. The documents were published as supposed justification for biogs written by Mr Slater for his website and in which he accused Mr Blomfield of dishonesty, theft, bribery, deceit, perjury and other criminal conduct.
Three of the document allegations were dismissed as having insufficient evidence that Cameron Slater was responsible for their release. Cameron Slater claimed that he was not personally responsible for their publication on various document sites, and the Director could not show that he was during the hearing.
 The Director’s case is that the disclosures breached information privacy principle 11 (IPP 11 ), caused significant emotional harm to Mr Blomfield and thereby interfered with his privacy. Mr Slater’s defence is that he is a news medium and therefore exempt from the Privacy Act 1993 because publication of Mr Blomfield’s personal information was a news activity as defined in s 2(1) of that Act. Mr Slater does not dispute publication on the Whale Oil website or on www.scribd.com. Nor does he rely on any of the permitted exceptions to IPP 11.
 The issue in these proceedings is whether in relation to any or all of the disclosures of Mr Blomfield’s personal information Mr Slater was a news medium whose business, or part of whose business, consisted of a news activity as defined in the Privacy Act, s 2(1 ).
Out of the remaining 43 disclosures of private information, Cameron Slater defended 12 posts as exemplars. Other posts had previously been ‘removed’ from his site. As the decision commented in discussing a restraining order:-
 While Mr Slater told the Tribunal he had taken down the blogs regarding Mr Blomfield the Tribunal was disconcerted by the ease with which Mr Slater was able to retrieve certain blogs and to annex several examples to his affidavit sworn on 6 November 2014.
Most likely these are just not visible to the public but still exist on the site. Plus of course there are copies and fragments of the posts and the disclosed private information are contained in archival sites ranging from the Internet Archive or New Zealand’s National Library to the local and remote sleaze sites.
Like the revolting irresponsible sleaze blog site operated by Cameron Slater’s close collaborator and assistant at the Tribunal, Dermot Nottingham – who was convicted of using his blog of breaching court suppression orders and criminal harassment. I happily assisted in bankrupting Nottingham after his abysmal failure at running a private prosecution against me, another blogger Pete George, and several news medium.
The decision about the news worthiness of the 12 posts by the Tribunal was that :-
 With the one exception none of the blogs comprised news activity as defined in the Privacy Act.
In that particular exception, the Tribunal said:-
 We accept that an allegation concerning the scamming of a charity would potentially engage the public interest notwithstanding the time gap and that by a narrow margin the biog concerned news, observations on news or current affairs. We are satisfied Mr Slater has established the news medium exemption in relation to this blog.
In other words, the post was potentially newsworthy because of its topic. However tellingly, in the decision they did appear to have examined if the release of private information in emails in that posts was appropriate or relevant or responsible for that particular topic. Which is what they did do in almost all of the other 11 posts.
I rather suspect that this was because if they had looked that closely at this particular post, then it’d have been hard to argue that any of those things were present. I know that when I read that particular post, my opinion was that there was nothing in private information published that substantiated any of the allegations made.
There was merely hyperbole and assertions by Cameron Slater with some rather obvious lack of context issues with the ‘evidence’. I suspect that this exception was described more to point a way for news mediums to show that there was scope for investigative journalism using private information – they just need to do it more competently than a bumbling idiot.
The standard being used by the Tribunal is extremely interesting. There is quite a lot of discussion about when it’d be legitimate for a news medium, who were granted a special and temporary exemption in the Privacy Act, to publish personal information in their role of publishing news for the public good.
[78.4] The news media exemption and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act do not confer a license at large to publish an individual’s personal information. The exemption from the Privacy Act has been granted for a purpose. Publication of personal information which does not serve that purpose is not protected by the exemption.
[78.5] Where an agency publishes the personal information of an identifiable individual and claims the protection of the news medium exemption the question to be addressed is whether the publication of that personal information is a news activity. In the context of a complaint that there has been an interference with the privacy of an individual, it is necessary to focus on what has been said, written or done about the individual and his or her personal information.
Now I have some serious doubts about blogs or bloggers being regarded as news medium or journalists, as I expressed in 2013 in “I think that Judge Blackie got it right” about the posts about Blomfield on Whaleoil.
Cameron Slater simply isn’t a journalists arsewipe. For him to claim the legal privileges, protections and authority that the journalistic profession holds within our political and economic community makes a travesty of the whole concept of a free and responsible press.
Now I’m aware that many of the marching morons that make up the more extreme sociopathic tendencies here and overseas tend to regard “free” as meaning they can do anything that they childishly want and that the responsibility as a outmoded concept. But they’re wrong.
A “free press” is one that is unencumbered by oppression or obligation to their sponsors about what or how to report. A “responsible press” doesn’t use their implied authority against individuals in a vendetta. This is literally the argument going on in Britain at present. It is a common pattern with unconstrained and irresponsible organisations who taint all of their better behaved brethren with the stench of excess.
It has been clear for a number of years that the Whaleoil site “demands” money from interested parties for whom it is writing advertorials for.
I’d note that the last paragraph in the wake of Dirty Politics and the defamation cases that are currently before the courts – especially the Sellman et al case.
This, in a more measured form, appears to be exactly the line that is being taken by both the civil courts and tribunals that guard our privacy.
Which if the courts and tribunals continue to grant the protections given to mainstream media to the blogs and social media, then they need to also establish what is acceptable behaviour.
In this site with its multiplicity of post authors and commenters we’ve tried to determine where we’d draw the line between responsibility, privacy, the public good, expressing opinion and robust public debate. Our line has largely followed the line previously drawn by the courts and legislation. It is tricky, but the decisions slowly coming through and that the site and authors don’t get pulled up or taken to court (apart from the dimwitted Nottingham private prosecution) seem to indicate that we’re striking a good balance.