Lawyer Steven Price, who specialises in media law, comments on the Listener‘s use of legal threats to silence a blogger:

In the comments section of the correction and apology, someone has helpfully posted a link to a copy of HotTopic’s original post. Don’t you just love the internet? On the off-chance that the link is removed in the near future, let me take the liberty of reproducing it here. By all means, pay a visit, and encourage others to do likewise. I hope that the post receives exponentially greater attention as a result of this legal threat.

I don’t say that because I’m a free speech absolutist, or because I think the internet ought to be a law-free zone. In general, I think people who defame others online deserve all they get. I doubt this is the first time internet material has been removed in NZ as a result of a legal threat, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Nope, I object to this because I think the Listener has used a tenuous legal claim to bully a blogger into retracting some moderate and reasonable criticisms. I don’t like it when anyone does this, but it’s particularly ugly when the heavies are acting for the media.

Some context: HotTopic – a serious blog about global warming – questioned the Listener’s removal of Dave Hansford as its Ecologic columnist. The blogger wondered whether Hansford’s removal had anything to do with his recent column criticising climate change sceptics. The post is largely a model of fairness. It sets out the background facts. It raises questions rather than making allegations. It even allows that the Listener’s editor may have made the change for other reasons. It plainly expresses comment. Readers can judge for themselves what to think. Bloody hell: how many blog posts merit that accolade? (For my part, I doubt Hansford was removed because of the column. The blog post is temperate enough that others have reached that view too).

Gareth Renowden has a collection of links to comments from other bloggers. A typical example:

For a media house to use that kind of stand-over tactic against another publication is just unacceptable. We don’t need to stoop to the level of the lawyer to settle our differences … That’s what editorials are for. Use the tools of the trade to defend your position, to explain, to communicate. If you can’t do that, you’re not an editor I would bother reading, let alone writing for.

On the other side of the question we have Jason Soon, who denies that it’s a free speech issue:

If a legal threat to some dumb-ass Kiwi sheeplover magazine I’ve never heard of in my life resulting in the Kiwi sheeplovers dismissing some country town journo is a ‘free speech’ issue then so is banning of commenters from blogs. I don’t think either of them are.

And then like a good libertarian, he makes a stand for freedom. Freedom for big companies to sue bloggers, that is.

Defamation law is there to be used, Bimbo Baggins. I have in fact argued that defamation law outside the US can be too broad and should be reformed. You can google me on this. So you have nothing to pin on me, you dishonest, hypocritical little creep. If you’re unhappy with the scope for defamation law, call for it to be changed. But as long as it’s there there is no legal impropriety in people using it.

So, if slavery was legal, Soon might argue that the law should be changed, but he would see nothing wrong with owning slaves.

Comments

  1. #1 QrazyQat
    April 20, 2008

    Jason Soon seems intent on proving Seth Finkelstein right.

  2. #2 bi -- Intl. J. Inact.
    April 20, 2008

    Reminds me of this golden nugget Crooked Timber:

    Raymond:

    All this whining about civil liberties/warrantless surveillance doesn’t resonate with most people. As a libertarian, I just don’t have any problem with how the administration is fighting this war [on Terror].

    Barbar:

    Bwahahahaha. OK, you got me, good one.

    Barry (above):

    ‘Small-government conservative’ = government should be stripped down to essential functions: cronyism and oppression.

    I guess they’ll need to find some inactivist judges.

  3. #3 bi -- Intl. J. Inact.
    April 20, 2008

    More hilarity from the same CatallaxyFiles thread:

    Jason’s right, why don’t you spend a little more time fixing up that resume of yours instead of worrying about some trumped up accusation of free speech infringement in the north Island of New Zealand, you shiny headed dwarf.

    I already told you, the mag had the law on its side to claim its rights, you pipsqueak.

    Now stop being a big baby because you’ve been made to look like a dishonest little creep… again LOL

    Next they’ll be making pleas for “civility”.

  4. #4 bi -- Intl. J. Inact.
    April 20, 2008

    By the way… holy batman, I just noticed that my prediction was right on the money.

    What next? My guess is they [inactivists]‘ll probably just say yeah, it’s not OK after all, but we’re big and bad and you’re a bunch of welfare junkie losers and there’s nothing you can do about us, bwahahahahahaha!

    I guess that makes me a junior Goracle.

  5. #5 anthony
    April 21, 2008

    Then I’m sure, by Soon’s own standards, he’d have no reason to complain if he were in a pub with group of Maori shearers and I told them that he thought they were a bunch of Kiwi sheeplovers.

  6. #6 Tim Lambert
    April 21, 2008

    Soon wasn’t brave enough to respond here but on his own blog he declared his lack of support for free speech was a “nuanced position”.

    >If you do respond he’ll write things against you anyway and blow your nuanced position up on his blog as totalitarian.

    And then Mr Nuance decided that he was the [Grand Inquisitor](http://catallaxyfiles.com/?p=3538&cp=6#comment-91782):

    >Lambert, come back here and answer those charges about trying to get Sinclair fired.

    Nobody made any such charges…

  7. #7 bi -- Intl. J. Inact.
    April 21, 2008

    JC said:

    Tim Lambert’s committment to honesty and deceny [sic] is not “nuanced”. It never existed.

    So “Lambird is a shiny headed dwarf” JC is now calling for decency, civility, and apple pie. I guess I can chalk another one up for yours truly the junior Goracle. :-B

    These nutbars sure are predictable…

  8. #8 QrazyQat
    April 21, 2008

    Soon wasn’t brave enough…

    Isn’t that #3 on the list of qualifications to be a libertarian? :)

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