Written By: - Date published: 9:46 am, October 11th, 2011 - 57 comments
Categories: accountability, blogs, democracy under attack, democratic participation, human rights, john key, national, radio, suppression orders - Tags: Martin Bomber Bradbury, RNZ
The threat of invoking defamation is a standard tactic to intimidate those who can’t afford the legals bills to shut their mouths. Such threats are sometimes known as strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPPS.
My understanding of Lange v. Atkinson (2000) and the qualified privilege afforded to political commentary that it enshrines, suggests there is no way a defamation case against Martyn Bradbury for his comments about John Key on RNZ’s Panel could be successful: considering Bradbury was invited on as a left-wing political commentator on a show that invites him to give a soliloquy on his openly left-wing opinions; and considering Bradbury’s comments were counter-balanced by critical comments from John Bishop and the ‘host’ Jim Mora immediately following Bradbury’s comments. (Comments that I personally thought were entirely justified and deserved considerably more serious on-air discussion than they received at the time or since. What’s so defamatory about asking “what a nasty little piece of work our Prime Minister is” anyway, given truth is a defence in such cases after all?)
But despite the gargantuan dual insults to free media speech and the independence of our state owned broadcasters that this SLAPP represents, we won’t see any legal challenges coming from APN, Fairfax or Mediaworks, or indeed RNZ or TVNZ. The former three because it doesn’t suit their commercial interests, that latter two because they are both already utterly cowed by their political masters.
So my question is would the blogosphere, political groups and those otherwise interested in the defence of free speech contribute to Bradbury’s legal fees if he was to call Key’s bluff and invite the PM to sue him? Or, should Key back down from that, then contribute to a case against RNZ for defaming Bradbury by suggesting he was guilty of defamation and therefore warranted banning. Perhaps unfair dismissal may also merit further investigation if a regular slot spanning 10 years could be said to be a contract?
It would help turn a broader public’s attention to what are fundamentally important issues for any democracy that cherishes free speech and political commentary – at a time when there are far few serious issues being otherwise addressed by the media. Who knows, it might even bring attention to the issues concerning Key’s appalling behaviour that Bradbury was actually trying to raise in the first place. Perhaps most importantly, it would be a strategic lawsuits of public participation. Hope would be a fine thing wouldn’t it?