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PM and Mate Share Blame for Defamation Debacle


PM and Mate Share Blame for Defamation Debacle

Tuesday 4 Dec 2001 Stephen Franks Press Releases -- Justice, Law & Order

Media leaders who forced the Prime Minister's climb down on re-introducing criminal libel, should continue the battle for better protection for media freedom, ACT's justice spokesman Stephen Franks says.

"Freedom of the press has been fragile in New Zealand for some time. We now know the Government, including the Attorney-General, will stifle it if they can," Mr Franks said.

"A principled stand by the media has won today, but neither the PM nor the Attorney-General have acknowledged they were wrong. Today just says they know when to withdraw.

"Free speech has not won their hearts and minds. When they show they don't understand or believe in media freedom, we have to be vigilant for the counter attack.

"The Prime Minister's climb down was graceless in that she abandoned her friend the Attorney- General to take all the blame. It's now clear it was the Prime Minister who asked for the clause.

"Margaret Wilson also deserves blame. The clause was riddled with mistakes. Worse, it was her job as Cabinet's legal conscience to blow the whistle on such a clear threat to free speech and open election coverage - and she has not admitted her fault in this area.

"Having seen how effective they can be when they stand together, I hope the media now use their principled power to demand immediate assurance that Sandra Lee's threat to coverage of local body elections is buried for good. Section 135 of the Local Electoral Act is, if anything, worse than the criminal defamation provision, and Sandra Lee has still not admitted that it suppresses freedom of the press.

"This has been a good day for freedom in New Zealand, but it is not assured until all politicians have been taught that New Zealanders truly value it and will defend it.

"I am writing to all those media leaders who were brave enough to sign the ultimatum letter to the Prime Minister, asking that they not lose momentum. We now know the Attorney General will not defend freedom of speech. It is up to the media to do so," Mr Franks said.

ENDS

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.


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