Colin Craig abandons defamation suit

  • 23/04/2013

By Dan Satherley and Adrien Taylor

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has abandoned plans to sue a satirical news website for defamation.

Yesterday Mr Craig's lawyers Chapman Tripp sent a warning to The Civilian, claiming it published a story designed "to make him look ridiculous".

In the story,  Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson admits his "big gay rainbow" speech was foolish and that "rain is a bad thing", in light of recent floods around the country. 

Of course, he said no such thing, and told 3 News he thought the spoof story was "a very funny piece of satire and I had no problems with it".

But Mr Craig isn't laughing. He's upset over a fictional quote attributed to him, which reads: "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."

Mr Craig demanded the site's editor, Ben Uffindell, post a retraction and pay him - a millionaire businessman - $500 for his legal troubles. 

In response, The Civilian acknowledged the "inaccuracy" and said they have taken steps to remedy the problem by "re-featuring the article at the top of our front page" with the retraction.

"We would like to note that we have also taken the additional measure of bolding the statement in question so that everybody knows which thing it was that Mr Craig did not say."

Mr Uffindell also sent Chapman Tripp an email which said he would "never dream of making Mr. Craig look ridiculous.

"Indeed, we're quite content to leave that up to him."

Today Mr Uffindell said he has no plans to stop publishing articles poking fun at politicians, and that the controversy will help its growing popularity.

"The legal precedent that Colin Craig is asking that I set – which is that I cannot use quotation marks in a satirical news story – is just absurd," says Mr Uffindell.

"You can't [satirise] the news without using quotation marks."

In any case, it seems Mr Craig would have had a tough task pursuing the legal action. 

"Generally, attempts to sue scallywag publications for defamation are not successful, says media law lecturer Ursula Cheer, "and they do more damage to the claimant than they do to the possible defendant."

'No room for humour' in politics

Mr Craig told the New Zealand Herald this morning he has a "well-developed" sense of humour, but that "when it comes to statements being reported in the public sphere [...] there is no room for humour."

Speaking on Firstline this morning, Mr Craig said he enjoys "a good laugh", but draws the line at false quotations.

"The problem is not everyone will understand what satire is," says Mr Craig.

"It looks like it's a quote from me and it's clearly not. I take that pretty seriously.

"We're a party doing very well, we intend to be in Parliament after the next election – and should be, all things being equal – so we're serious about this, and if people want to quote me, fine, but they do have to actually make sure it's correct."

Mr Craig fears other websites might also fail to get the joke, and present the quote as fact.

"It's actually a responsibility of someone publishing in the public space… when you're quoting somebody, you've got to make sure that's right. If you express an opinion, no problem, but a quote's a quote and people understand what quotation marks mean."

It's not the first time Mr Craig has threatened defamation action over a fake quote, he says, and it probably won't be the last.

"It does matter that we've got our message clearly across and people do understand the difference between what somebody's throwing out there as a joke and something that I've actually said, and that's the line for me," he says.

"This is not the first time I've done this, and I'll continue to do it to make sure that people accurately report what I do say and what we as a party stand for."

In addition to an apology and a retraction, Mr Craig initially also wanted Mr Uffindell to cover his legal costs, amounting to around $500.

"At the end of the day, he's made a mistake and I have to pay something to correct it."

The Civilian has more than 6000 Facebook fans, and has published other satirical stories about New Zealand politicians, including 'John Banks can’t wait to get gay married' and 'Government to sell Peter Dunne', as well as humorous stories about David Shearer and Russel Norman.

Mr Craig however is the first politician to threaten the site with legal action.

3 News

source: newshub archive