Why the Slater defamation case is so important for democracy in NZ

By   /   October 5, 2017  /   13 Comments

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Do we want secretly funded fake news campaigns to be able to derail serious public health issues in favour of commercial interests? Is that the kind of public policy debate we want?

This is an incredibly important ruling…

Whale Oil blogger, former MP, and PR specialist could face jury

Blogger Cameron Slater, Food and Grocery Council head Katherine Rich and PR specialist Carrick Graham have failed in a bid to get a defamation claim thrown out of court.

The case was brought by public health professionals Dr Doug Sellman, Dr Boyd Swinburn and Shane Bradbrook, who alleged they had been defamed in a series of blog posts on Slater’s Whale Oil blog, and comments Graham allegedly left on the posts.

They also alleged Graham had organised the posts’ publication and authored one of them himself, and Rich – a former National MP – and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council had paid Graham for his services.

…let’s just remind ourselves what this is all about.

The allegations made in Dirty Politics is that Slater was secretly taking money from spin doctors connected to big sugar and the food industry to denigrate and attack public health scientists who were advocating for needed sugar taxes and fast food advertising restrictions.

The attacks were vicious, personal and amounted to hate speech as opposed to a difference of opinion.

What this ruling says is that Slater, the spin drs and the industry that paid them do have a case to answer in terms of defamation, but the issue is far more important and larger than the personal character assassination of public health academics.

Do we want secretly funded fake news campaigns to be able to derail serious public health issues in favour of commercial interests? Is that the kind of public policy debate we want?

What Slater, the spin drs and the processed food industry attempted here was nothing short of reprehensible tactics of sleaze and viciousness to undermine basic public health science.

Shouldn’t those attempting to warp the debate so big sugar can continue to make billions in profit be punished not just for the damage they do to the individuals they smear, but to the wider community as well?

I hope the public health scientists taking this case manage to get the Court to consider the damage to society these people have also hurt.

 

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13 Comments

  1. R.P. Mcmurphy says:

    Slater is a cancerous growth on the body politic and the general public consciousness and he needs to be stopped or brought short at any and every opportunity. He is a rabble rouser and finds his interests best served by the mob rather than the inexorable quality of the laws. Far from being the white knight he claims he is this particular case highlights his preferred tactics and working for the money rather than the public weal.

  2. Cemetery Jones says:

    Surely if Slater & friends get their asses handed to them in this case, it totally vindicates everything Hager claimed? I mean, we believed him from the start, it was obvious. But how then will the public, the media, or the political class be able to avoid the glaringly obvious any longer?

    • richarquis says:

      “But how then will the public, the media, or the political class be able to avoid the glaringly obvious any longer?”

      With their rose-tinted sunglasses, I’d say.

  3. Marc says:

    Yes, but there are even greater implications, that may also be of importance and relevance to TDB and readers and us commenters here. I must refer to this, a post on TS, pointing some of this out:
    https://thestandard.org.nz/cameron-slater-makes-valuable-contribution-to-blog-defamation-jurisprudence/

    “The third issue also received short shrift. The Judge said:

    “Blog posts are subject to the same legal tests as other media though they must be read in context. The law of defamation must not be applied so enthusiastically as to chill genuine political and policy debate. Those who engage in public political and policy debate must expect robust public responses. But defendants cannot expect to make false unsubstantiated personal attacks with legal impunity. In particular, here, the terms “trougher”, “rorter” and “ripping off” have pejorative connotations of wrongdoing in the use of funding that are capable of being defamatory.”

    …So if you are going to engage in attack blogging argue the issue and don’t make claims about the motivation. Unless there is solid proof.”

    It may have a chilling effect on how far we can go in criticising politicians, public figures, business persons, journalists, bloggers and perhaps even other commenters. That must be of worry, I think.

    • bert says:

      Ye Marc. “So if you are going to engage in attack blogging argue the issue and don’t make claims about the motivation. Unless there is solid proof.”

      And this is exactly why Paula Bennetts history goes unchallenged. Her word against her Facebook accuser.

  4. Red Buzzard says:

    +100 … Good Post!

  5. mosa says:

    Cameron Slater is toilet film.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      National = cancer laden with cameron and co’.

      Winston must stay away from any coalition with this lot period.

  6. Christine says:

    It’s a great shame that dedicated health professionals have to expend their valuable time and energy in this way. But having read and been appalled by “Dirty Politics”, having some of these worrying issues aired publicly before a jury can only be in the public interest. I wish them well.

    It’s also a great shame that a patently good man, Nicky Hager, has been vilified by tiresome politicos who should know better, but apparently do not. I wish him well.

  7. Katherine Rich’s career will be in tatters after this court case, regardless of the ruling. Any corporate or state sector employer will think long and hard before employing someone who is willing to resort to smear tactics through a far-right blogger, to achieve her goals.

    Slater has no reputation to defend. Rich does, and it is badly damaged after this.

    • patricia bremner says:

      We hope so Frank, but like the other crooks, she will find shelter with like minds sadly.

      A new coalition may help clear the road blocks to truth and hope.

    • Dave says:

      Mr Key and the National party were unaffected by their well publicised association and employment of Slater as their black opts disinformation public mouth piece. So why should anything change as the great ignorant masses just don’t care.

  8. Sally's Husband says:

    So Katherine Rich from the Grocery Council paid Cameron Slater to run derogatory stories about the complainants?? WTF?? Does the Grocery Council know their money was spent on this smear campaign?? If I were them, I’d be running a forensic audit on their accounts.