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Serepisos writ highlights risks of online comment

Sep 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

TERRY SEREPISOS. Stuff image

THE legal risks of publishing online are becoming more apparent in New Zealand.

Terry Serepisos’ pending defamation case against The National Business Review  involves not only what was published in the paper, but also a comment made on its website.

The NBR does not moderate comments posted to its website (as of date of publication) and did not respond to requests for comment regarding the matter.

Media law expert Steven Price says online defamation cases are murky ground.

“If they knowingly published defamatory material on their website then they are liable, but if the comment was placed without their knowledge then they may be able to invoke a defence of innocent dissemination.”

Although unusual, this is not the first case of its kind in New Zealand.

David Bain supporter Joe Karam has a pending defamation case before court concerning comments made about him online.

He is suing members of the Justice for Robin Bain Group (JFRB) for comments made on its Facebook page, website Counterspin and on Trade Me message boards.

Mr Serepisos has hired prominent media lawyer Peter McKnight, who says the case centres on comments made regarding the Wellington property developer’s family.

The story in question, published in The NBR in February, concerned Mr Serepisos’ elderly mother Alliki Serepisos mortgaging properties she owns.

Mr Serepisos sent a written statement concerning the case to The Dominion Post in April:

It is fully appreciated that the media has certain rights to comment on certain matters, they being of public interest, but when it turns into a personal attack upon me and my family, they are going too far.

As far as I am concerned they have crossed a line in an unacceptable way.

The writ was filed in at the High Court in Wellington on April 28 and names publishers Barry Coleman and his company Fourth Estate Holdings, and journalist Matt Nippert, as defendants.

“We stand by our stories, and unfortunately are unable to discuss this matter” said Mr Nippert.

NBR news editor Ellen Read said that she could not comment on an open case , but said that they “stand by our reporters and their stories”.

Mr Serepisos did not respond to requests for further comment.

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