Brian Edwards has been threatened with a defamation suit by lawyers acting for the Sunday Star-Times. I think the SST is over-reacting, especially as all Edwards has done is publish four sworn affadavits saying Amanda Hotchin did not speak the words attributed to her by the Sunday Star-Times. Edwards has been careful to say he does not know who is correct, and has mainly been calling for the SST to rebut the affadavits.
The SST are refusing to, on the basis of a possible lawsuit by Hotchin.
I don’t know if the SST report of Mrs Hotchin’s words are correct or not. I will make the point that the reporter, Jonathan Marshall, is in the habit of recording his conversations as proof of what has been said to him. I do not know whether or not he recorded this particular exchange.
Mrs Hotchin has said it is too expensive to sue, and has instead effectively fought her side of the story on Dr Edwards’s blog. And I have certainly found it interesting to hear her side. However at the end of the day Brian Edwards can’t adjudicate on the veracity of the report, as he can’t compel a response from the SST.
Mrs Hotchin should file a formal complaint with the Sunday Star-Times, and if not satisified with their response, then complain to the press council. That would allow her affadavits to be tested against any evidence from the Sunday Star-Times. I am suspicious that she refuses to take this step – it does not need lawyers and costs basically nothing – it is her best chance of clearing her name.
But while Mrs Hotchin is not helping her own case by refusing to go down the route of the Press Council, I don’t think it is a good look for a newspaper to use nastygram legal letters to try and shut up a blogger – these are the tactics normally used by the subjects of newspaper investigations – not newspapers themselves.
The SST could simply have responded to the affadavits with an invitation for Mrs Hotchin to complain to the Press Council, and stating they are confident in their version of events.
Threatening Dr Edwards with defamation is also very stupid. It guarantees more and more people will know about the issue, and gets the story into the mainstream media.
Hopefully common sense will preval and Mrs Hotchin will go down the press council avenue for adjudication, and the Sunday Star-Times will keep its specialist defamation lawyers on a leash.
UPDATE: A reader has pointed out to me that the Hotchins themselves have been pretty quick to use lawyers also to threaten defamation. An (offline) HoS story reported in May 2010:
As with Amanda, few who know Mark are willing to talk on the record. Robert Alloway, managing director of Allied Farmers, the firm that absorbed Hanover assets in controversial deal at the end of last year, says the men behind Hanover have a reputation for sending out letters from law firm Chapman Tripp.
“They have deep pockets and aren’t afraid to reach into them. Whether it’s Bruce Sheppard, or me, or anyone saying anything you’d call an opinion, you’d get a letter. Typically I can set my watch by it. If it’s in a Saturday paper, I’ll get a letter on the Tuesday,” he says.
I also understand the Hotchins had their own law firm send lawyers letters to other media, threatening them if they repeated the SST story.