In a landmark case, the Court of Appeal has recognised a new defamation defence of responsible communication in the public interest. But it has found the Maori Television Service acted irresponsibly in publishing allegations about Sir Edward and Ms Hall.
In 2015, MTS ran a story on Sir Edward and Ms Hall. That story made serious untrue allegations about both people. This included the false claim that Ms Hall had been sacked as a lawyer for the New Zealand Māori Council.
MTS did not verify the truth of those allegations before it published them. It did not contact Sir Edward for comment. When it contacted Ms Hall she was busy with work. Ms Hall gave a partial response but asked for more time to respond properly. MTS went ahead with its story without giving her more time. When MTS initially posted the story online it did not include any of Ms Hall’s response.
MTS defended the claim by saying that there should be a defence when a news organisation publishes a story that is in the public interest. Such a defence has never been recognised before in New Zealand.
Both sides before the Court of Appeal agreed that a defence of this kind should be recognised in New Zealand. The difference between the parties was the exact nature of that defence. The Court of Appeal has defined the scope of the defence and has accepted the argument on behalf of Sir Edward and Ms Hall that MTS’s failure to post Ms Hall’s response was a “fundamental failing” that is “fatal to the defence”.
“We are delighted with this decision. It is important that there is protection in New Zealand for publications in the public interest. But such a defence should never succeed where false allegations are published without verification and without publishing a full and proper response,” said Sir Edward.
Sir Edward and Ms Hall thanked the Court of Appeal for the extensive effort that has clearly gone into its judgment, “and we would like to thank Felix Geiringer and Steven Price, our barristers, who have put an extraordinary amount of effort into arguing a difficult case in a novel area of the law”.