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Satire or Defamation?

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig

A New Zealand political satire website known as “The Civilian” received some heat from Conservative Party leader Colin Craig last week.  The website published a story regarding some flooding that occurred in the city of Nelson, Waikato, stating that the flood in the Bay of Plenty was a result of the Marriage Amendment Bill being passed.  This was an obvious reference to Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson’s now famous speech where he describes seeing a “big gay rainbow” and claims it’s a sign in favor of the amendment which permits the marriage of same-sex couples.

The article featured in “The Civilian” then goes on to quote Colin Craig, “Williamson likes to talk about big gay rainbows, but it would help if he understood what the rainbow actually means.  After Noah’s flood, God painted a giant rainbow across the sky, which was a message that he would never again flood the world, unless we made him very angry.  And we have.”

The only problem is, Craig never said that.  The quote was entirely satirical and manufactured by “The Civilian.”  This resulted in Craig’s lawyer sending the editor of the satire website a letter claiming the quote to be defamatory and inaccurate.  In response, a note was published above the story which read, “We accept, upon further review, that Mr. Craig never made the statement attributed to him.  We retract the statement and apologize to Mr. Craig for any harm we have caused to his impeccable reputation [smiley face].”

Later, Craig stated that he was pleased with the response of the editor and that he would take no further legal action.

Ben Uffindell, editor of “The Civilian,” claims that any story published on the website is intended to be purely satirical and he never wanted anyone to receive the impression that Mr. Craig actually made such a comment.  He’s also stated that the story’s generated so much publicity for the website, that their servers are struggling to keep up with the huge influx of web traffic it’s been receiving.

What do you think, was Craig in the right to take up legal action against “The Civilian,” or was he taking the whole thing too seriously?

-Lou Iatarola

Sources:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/8590534/Conservative-Party-withdraws-legal-action-over-satire

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/media-publishing-industry/news/article.cfm?c_id=707&objectid=10879821

New Zealand May Get a “One-Stop-Shop” Media Regulator

Law Commission president Sir Grant Hammond

        A new proposal in New Zealand may result in a single, independent regulator to watch over every aspect of the country’s media – online news, print and broadcasting.  After much speculation was made by the Law Commission, president Grant Hammond stated that the best move in today’s digital age is to create a “one-stop-shop” media regulator which would be completely independent of the government and industry.  This new watchdog would hear complaints and issue sanctions on all forms of news from current affairs down to opinions.  Hammond also stated that this proposal has not been made in light of any kind of crisis with the media.  Instead, it’s been prompted by the many gaps and imbalances between the many different forms of media that bring the public news and current affairs.  For instance, broadcast news was subject to strict statutory standards and heavy sanctions while online content and content accessed on-demand was subject to far less standards if any at all.

        Although this new regulator would not have the power to actually fine companies, it would the power to force publishers to remove material from a website, correct errors, publish apologies, allow a person a right of reply and ensure that all reporting was done in an ethical manner.  Former TVNZ head of news Bill Ralston stated that, “Shaming is a far worse penalty [than a fine] because you lose faith and trust of your readers and listeners.”

-Lou Iatarola

Sources:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/media-publishing-industry/news/article.cfm?c_id=707&objectid=10873856

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2013/mar/26/press-regulation-newzealand