Journalist's defamation case worth '$10' - lawyer

Last updated 13:01 17/07/2013
jon stephenson
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
Journalist Jon Stephenson
Rhys Jones
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones

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A jury has been asked to reject the claim that the chief of Defence issued a press release that damaged the reputation of freelance war correspondent Jon Stephenson.

Stephenson says the words of the release that Lieutenant General Rhys Jones issued on May 2, 2011, mean "he made things up".

But in the High Court at Wellington today, the lawyer for the General and the Defence Force said the issue was not whether Stephenson was angry or upset at the words.

Hugh Rennie, QC, said the issue the jury had to decide was whether the ordinary reader of the press release would have thought the words brought Stephenson into hatred, ridicule and contempt and had damaged his reputation.

No-one had come to court to say Stephenson had lost a job, that he had suffered any damage, or what others had thought of the words in the press release.

There was no damage, no injury and no loss, Rennie said.

"If I'm wrong about that, is it worth $10? It can't be worth more."

Rennie was making his final address to a jury of seven men and five women who have the job of deciding whether  Stephenson has proved his $500,000 claim against Jones and the Defence Force.

Stephenson had written a long article for Metro magazine's May, 2011, edition in which he said there was evidence that New Zealand SAS troops were breaching international law by handing detainees to authorities known to use torture.

A small part of the article was Stephenson's report of having gone to the Kabul Crisis Response Unit base, an Afghan police unit with a few SAS members embedded as "mentors". Stephenson said he spoke to the base commander.

The press release Jones issued responded to several points in the Metro article and denied SAS troops were complicit in human rights breaches.

It also said Stephenson had been turned away from the base and that the commander denied speaking to  Stephenson.

The jury had to decide what those words, and another reference in the press release, meant, Rennie said.

The release simply said there was a difference about what Stephenson said and that was uncertainty, not defamation, Rennie said.

Stephenson did not even know the name of the person he said was introduced to him as the commander.

Stephenson's lawyer, Davey Salmon is next to address the jury.

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- The Dominion Post

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