Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Independent threatened to sue blogger

Last week, Anne Budgell of CBC Radio Noon interviewed blogger Ed Hollett, asking him how it felt to be singled out by the Premier as the possible target of a libel suit. During the Interview, Hollett mentioned that some time ago a local newspaper had also threatened to sue him.

This was something of a shock. Newspapers are commonly the target of lawsuits, but rarely the aggressor. Hollett has been known to write an unkind word or two about The Independent, and was quick to confirm my suspicion when I called him.

The letter was received quite some time ago and Hollett didn’t have it as his fingertips when I called. He did say that the letter asked him to stop making any further reference to the newspaper in his blog.

I then emailed Ryan Cleary, editor of The Independent, to get his side of the story. After all, The Independent is an opinionated newspaper that could not survive without freedom of speech, so it seems unusual to threaten legal action against someone else for exercising that right.

Cleary replied by saying that he didn’t want to be quoted in my blog, adding that he had no idea what I was talking about regarding a letter to Hollett. “If it happened, it wasn't while I was at the helm of The Independent,” he wrote.

For clarification, I went back to Hollett, who delved into his files, retrieved the letter, and sent over a scanned copy. The letter, dated October 28 2005, is from Ken Young of Derrick White Law, speaking on behalf of his client, Brian Dobbin (at the time, the owner of The Independent). It claims that Hollett made false statements about Dobbin and the newspaper, including speculation that the newspaper was on the verge of ceasing publication

“These comments are wholly inaccurate, misleading and damaging to Mr. Dobbin and The Independent,” the letter reads. “You are hereby put on notice that you are to immediately cease and desist making such statements, and any other defamatory statements regarding our client and The Independent… Should these statements be repeated in the future, Mr. Dobbin and The Independent will be forced to take legal action, and pursue their respective legal remedies to the fullest extent of the law.”

What do I make of all this? Well, as noted, I do think it’s ridiculous for a scrappy paper like The Independent to sue others for expressing alternative points of view. I appreciate that printing rumours about imminent closure can be harmful. I am more concerned about the “other defamatory statements” since these qualify as fair comment, no matter how critical they may have been. I would hope that the paper will cease and desist from such drastic measures in the future.

That said, I take Cleary at his word on this. I really don’t think he knew what Dobbin was doing, since the lawyer is clearly acting on Dobbin’s behalf.

And what did Ed Hollett do? At the time, he did cease and desist, though he continues to mention the paper occasionally.

“I just decided that it was not worth the crap,” Hollett said. “If I had my time back, I would have kept it up to see if they put their money where their mouth was.”


towniebastard said...

Considering less than six months later The Independent did fold (and was quickly and miraculously resurrected), I think Ed might have been onto something. And it certainly wasn't Ed's blog writing that caused the paper to fold. While Ed probably has one of the higher traffic levels of Newfoundland blogs, I doubt he was influencing enough people to get them to drop the paper. Hell, knowing how polarizing Ed can be, he might have been inspiring people to pick up the paper out of spite.

The Independent was in trouble and anyone with a basic understanding of media (which Ed possesses much more than) could see that. All you had to do was scan the page count and how many ads (not from a Dobbin owned businesses) were running in the paper to conclude the paper was in deep financial trouble. You could also throw in the number of copies left lying around stores after a Sunday to further hammer home the point.

Hell, there had been rumours about the paper's financial status within weeks of it launching and persist to this day.

Far be it for be to tell Ed he should have stood up to a legal threat. I don't know what I would have done if positions were reversed and I would have to engage a lawyer to defend myself. But it certainly was a cheap intimidation tactic on the part of Dobbin.

Greg Locke said...

Mr Cleary became MANAGING EDITOR of the Independent upon my departure in March 2004. That would most definetly put him "at the helm" when this piece of crap was sent to Ed Hollett.

You would think a "managing" editor would know when his paper's name was being used in threats by lawyers and businessmen who think The Law is theirs to be used as a weapon.

Edward G. Hollett said...

As always, Craig, you pull your punches when you describe me as "polarizing". Just kidding.

It amazes me that I have to do it, but I should point out that you are absolutely correct. One of the objectives with Bond Papers is to inform, as in providing factual information that isn't in the public domain.

One of the others is to be provocative and, as you say correctly, polarising. It's based on the simple idea that one of the best ways people can come to a solid conclusion on anything is to see contending points of view strongly presented. It's akin to the old saw that if everyone is thinking alike then no one is thinking.

In dealing with the Spindy, I had and have quite strong opinions on a whole bunch of levels. One of them remains the unfulfilled potential of a newspaper with a great purpose - as reinforced by Ryan's comments just this week again to CBC Radio - that comes up way too short on the delivery when it comes to hard, political news.

I have no objective evidence to support your point about driving some circ to the paper, but it certainly is possible. Toward the end of its first incarnation, I was able to post on Saturday night well before most people got was then a Sunday paper. People may well have picked up the copy to see what I was rambling on about.

Truthfully, I hope they did simply because they should be reading newspapers, listening to radio and watching television news.

I hope they still do because as long as the paper is out there and people are sweating to put it out, the least I can do is toss a toonie in the till. I bought the paper faithfully at full price and continue to do so.

on the point of the paper's viability I know that i said to a number of people who asked me about it that - as you said - the paper was rumoured to folding from day one and by God it was still alive. In other words, believe it folds when it folds and not a moment before. In the meantime, buy it and advertise in it, if it fits your demographic.

You point on the financials are well taken. Part of my conclusion came from that sort of assessment. Part of it came from a piece in the current in September '05 that estimated the paper was bleeding about 10K a week. In the same issue, Brian boasted the paper would be profitable before Christmas or words to that effect. What happened is well known.

In the meantime, the boys seem to have cracked the circ issue with a distribution deal. There is some rock solid content, some half decent stuff and some crud. It's pretty typical of most publications - no offense intended; I consider that a penetrating insight into the obvious for any venture like a newspaper.

In the meantime, I seldom write about the Indy these days because it just got boring to write the same stuff over and over again.

Mike Kehoe said...

Anyone with even a basic knowledge of how the civil courts can be used will easily recognize that statements of Claim ( or Defence ) filed therein need not have merit to be successful. Just money behind them. Deep pockets. Moolah. They are even more successful if the intended target is the " working poor " ( no offense Ed ).

The Courts can indeed be the greatest tool of scoundrels. Particularly those with deep pockets. The tactic of throwing retained firms against an opponent is long recognised as a great way to shut someone up or wear them out.

In closing I guess I should point out that my comment doesn't in anyway reflect on the past, present or future relationships of Mssrs Dobbin, Wangersky, Hollet et al.

That covers it I think.

Mike Kehoe