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.
The case was prompted by allegations made in Nicky Hager's 2014 book Dirty Politics.
In a decision released this week, the High Court at Auckland declined the defendants' bid to have the case struck out.
They had argued the case was filed too late as it was brought more than two years after the first publication of the statements.
However, Justice Matthew Palmer said as the statements were still available on Slater's blog, they had, in effect, been published multiple times.
He also found Slater's publishing of hyperlinks to earlier posts amounted to republication of the statements.
The defendants also argued the case was an abuse of court process and it would be a "disproportionate waste of resources" for it to proceed.
But Justice Palmer said the right of people to bring legal action, against "however powerful or popular a defendant", had a high constitutional value in New Zealand.
Justice Palmer suppressed the alleged defamatory statements as the case could go to a jury trial.
However, he said in general they were "personally abusive about the plaintiffs", as well as their positions "on matters of public policy relating to the regulation of alcohol, tobacco, sugar and fat".
The plaintiffs claimed the posts and comments had 161 defamatory meanings in total. However, Justice Palmer struck out 21 of those.