Whale Oil blogger wants journalists' privileges

05:50, Jun 23 2014
Cameron Slater
WHALE OIL: Blogger Cameron Slater

Businessman Matthew Blomfield's lawyer says Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater could not be considered a journalist when he wrote allegedly defamatory things about Blomfield in 2012 and therefore did not have the same right as a journalist to protect his sources.

However, Slater said blogs should be seen as independent media organisations and he should have the same rights as journalists to protect their sources.

Slater is in the High Court in Auckland today appealing a District Court decision that he could not be considered part of the media.

The blogger has tried to rely on Section 68 of the Evidence Act as he defends a defamation suit brought by Blomfield in the Auckland District Court.

Section 68 deals with protection of journalists' sources.

The District Court had ordered the blogger to hand over his sources but Slater argued he had the same rights as journalists to protect their sources.

He won leave to appeal the decision.

Slater told the High Court today that the key points to his appeal were whether Whale Oil was a news medium and in turn whether he could be considered a journalist.

The blogger, who was representing himself, said that according to the Evidence Act a news medium broke and disseminated news.

"Since the day the website started in 2005 that's all I've ever done," he said.

Whale Oil had more than 100,000 page views a day and therefore the public were interested in the news and opinions that were published on the site.

However, Blomfield's lawyer Matt Karam said the definition of "news medium" was very broad and the more important aspect was whether Slater could be considered a journalist in 2011 when the sources provided Slater with information and in 2012 when he published posts about Blomfield on his site.

Karam said Slater could not be considered a journalist at the time he gathered information on Blomfield, therefore his sources were not officially informants whose identity could be protected according to the Evidence Act.

To be considered a journalist Slater would have to have been working for a news medium during their normal course of work, and earning a living from it, he said.

At the time Slater did "very little" in the way of breaking news and the blog was more of a hobby or passion, rather than a primary source of income for Slater, Karam said.

Justice Raynor Asher spent some time earlier today discussing the definition of a blog versus a traditional news medium.

At one point the judge said blogs were centred on opinions while traditional news media did not try and put a slant on the news.

There was a smattering of laughter from Slater and the packed public gallery at the judge's comments that traditional news media did not write biased stories.

In March, when the High Court gave Slater the right to appeal, Justice Asher said it "seems likely" Slater did publish news, but the question remained whether this was the case two years ago.

The appeal was adjourned in April with Justice Asher saying the issue was important and would require an interpretation of an aspect of Section 68 of the Evidence Act for the first time.

Experienced media lawyer Julian Miles, QC was appointed as amicus curiae - an advisor to the court - to research the law and give the judge an impartial view before he made his decision.

Today Slater ran through a list of articles and videos he published in and before 2012 that he considered to be news, therefore making him a journalist at the time.

He also pointed to his Canon Media Award, won at this year's ceremony as evidence.

Justice Asher reserved his decision, which was expected to take about two weeks to be released.