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NZ Press Council Defends Freedom Of Speech

In its role as a defender of freedom of speech, the New Zealand Press Council today issued a statement in support of the New Zealand Court of Appeal's decision in the Lange v. Atkinson defamation case. An appeal against that decision was allowed by the Privy Council and published last week.

This year the Press Council issued its Statement of Principles which contains the following:

"There are some broad principles to which the council is committed. There is no more important principle than freedom of expression. In a democratically governed society the public has a right to be informed and much of that information comes from the media."

In its statement today, the Press Council said: "The New Zealand Court of Appeal in a carefully reasoned judgement held that the publication `North and South' could use the political expression (qualified privilege) defence against Mr Lange's claim for defamation. The essence of the Lange case, and the other related Australian and English cases, is the protection of reputation of a politician in his or her public life against the public's right to be informed. Political expression is restricted to political information.

"Recently the House of Lords disallowed the defence in a collateral case Reynolds v. Times Newspapers Limited. The Privy Council in Lange(identical court composition and issued with Reynolds) sent the Lange case back to the New Zealand Court of Appeal for it to reconsider its decision in the light of Reynolds.

"The Press Council makes no comment on the appropriateness of the Reynolds case to the United Kingdom conditions but supports the approach of the Australasian courts, which are broadly in agreement on a political expression defence being available to the media.

"The Press Council firmly supports the Court of Appeal's decision in Lange on the grounds that it is in favour of greater freedom of expression and the right of the media to inform the public about its political life. To change that landmark decision will inevitably produce a chilling effect on our freedoms, and align us closer to practise in the United Kingdom rather than Australia."


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