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.”