Why hung Jury is a chilling slap in the face to Journalism in NZ


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And the decision in the Jon Stephenson defamation case against the NZDF is a hung Jury.


This decision is a terrible day for those Journalists brave enough to speak truth to power.

What the NZDF did to Stephenson in the wake of Stephenson’s well researched article in Metro highlighting our SAS handing Afghan civilians over to known torture units was a clear smear campaign to discredit him rather than engage with any of the issues he had raised.

We know the NZDF have manipulated the spin within a pretty compliant media regarding our true role in Afghanistan, this disinformation campaign aimed at Stephenson was simply an extension of that media management.

Claiming Stephenson never visited the base or spoke to who he had claimed to have spoken to allowed the Military to side-step having to engage in allegations that were effectively a breach of the Geneva Convention.

Committing war crimes tends to be a dampener on domestic support.

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This case was an attempt to put those tactics up on trial and show them for what there were, defamation with malice. After showing evidence of Stephenson visiting the base and talking to the Commander, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones admitted that Stephenson visited the base and spoke to the commander.

Let’s stress that point, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones admitted during the trial that what he had said was not true. The NZDF still had up on their website the claims Stephenson had never visited the base or spoken to the commander as little as last week.

This hung jury is a message that the context of which this defamation occurred will side with the version of authority even after that authority admits they were wrong.

The peers of journalists have set a self-mutalatingly high threshold for the interests of oligarchic justice.

Jon Stephenson and NZ journalism deserved better than what they got today and we’re the poorer for it.


  1. Agreed Martyn.

    I really hope the debate was about whether to award Stephenson $10 or to award him huge amounts of money because from what I saw he won the case hands down. He had his reputation wrongly maligned by Defence who then fronted up to the trial with lots of taxpayers dollars and challenged everything.

    It was an unbalanced battle but if there is justice Stephenson would still have won. I am sure that he does not care about the size of the damages as long as his reputation is preserved.

  2. One can only wonder the calibre of the selected jury – perhaps the issue was too scientific or involved for them to understand. Considering this trial was on for a week before it was mentioned on TV or more than a snippet appeared in the newspaper, implies the msm non-newsworthiness of this issue.
    Jon Stephenson is a man of impeccable integrity, a man who chooses to bear witness. It appears the Govt finds his reporting on our ‘reconstruction’ teams’ activities in Afghanistan extremely threatening. Perhaps he is the weapon of mass distraction Key was talking about?

  3. The hung jury allows for a limited glimpse at the mind-set of the NZ public. Neither ‘side,’ it would appear, was prepared to budge, even after protracted discussion. This ‘polarity of clarity’ as I’ve heard it called, is indicative of the divergent paths of mainstream media and the objective presentation of issues, particularly international. The same polarity is even more evident in the USA, where the information curtain has been drawn tighter for much longer. Greater government and corporate influence in the information diet of average New Zealanders lies at the crossroads of this result, I believe. A result which, unfortunately, can only make matters a little worse.

  4. This is an appalling result, but it was always going to be an improbable gamble to get a jury to find against the position taken by the NZDF. I do not think it would matter how damning the evidence presented against the NZDF was, out of just about every selection process there would have been enough jurors thrown up who would be rigidly antagonistic to anyone challenging the legitimacy of the NZDF’s activities in Afghanistan.
    According to the article linked to by Bomber Justice MacKenzie directed the jury that there was now no challenge to Stephenson’s account of the visit.

    John Stephenson deserves a public apology from Lieutenant General Rhys Jones and compensation for being defamed in such a cavalier fashion.

  5. Thanks for clarifying the issues at stake. The problem for a lot of people is that such news stories are background “noise” in their lives. I wouldn’t consider myself a dumbo but I hadn’t followed the case at all and didn’t understand the implications. It’s taken just 500 words or less on this website to make everything crystal clear. What hope, then, for the masses who don’t follow politics closely and rely on the mainstream media (meaning television) to keep them informed. The best support one can probably give to Jon now is to a donation to his legal bill (which seemed to be the primary line of inquiry on National Radio this morning) and Jon said wouldn’t leave much over from $100,000.

  6. Just went to the link and read this: “But the defendants continue to deny the words in the press release had the meaning Stephenson alleged, or were defamatory. Even if they were defamatory they were in response to an “attack”, and it might be worth $10, their lawyer said.”

    In other words, any truthful reporting of facts that puts the military in a negative light, makes attacking the source through lies and defamation okay. Imagine if the whole of society was allowed to operate like this.

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