Were the damages really too high?

There are a great many people, mostly those who weren’t in court to hear the evidence, the chambers discussions or indeed the witnesses, all proclaiming that they know better and the damages were too high in the Williams v?Craig case.

They talk about the chilling effect of such damages without first working out it might be better for media and rich people to start by telling the truth.

Nonetheless, there are comparisons with previous defamation records and that of the awards in the Williams case.

TVNZ reports:

The awarding of Jordan Williams?$1.27 million, after a jury found he’d been defamed by former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, is the highest in New Zealand history.

In 2014 Joe Karam was awarded $535,000 plus costs in a defamation case against two men for their comments about his support for David Bain.

Musician Ray Columbus was awarded $675,000 plus costs for action he took against the NZ Truth for an article they published in 1997.

Michael Stiassny v Vince Siemer ? $825,000 and costs

Ray Columbus v Truth newspaper ? $675,000 and costs

Terry Quinn v TVNZ ? $650,000 and costs

Joe Karam v Kent Parker and Victor Purkiss ? $535,000 plus indemnity costs estimated to be $500,000

Jung Nam Lee v New Korea Herald ? $250,000 and costs

Which is all well and good, but is Jordan William’s win really a record? ?

Well, not when you look at the finer details.

There were two counts. For simplicity sake, there was Count One: The press conference, in front of ALL media outlets, where Colin Craig calls Jordan Williams (and John Stringer and myself) a liar for daring to suggest that he sexually harassed Rachel MacGregor amongst other things. Count Two: Where Colin Craig maliciously sent 1.6 million households a booklet containing the infamous Mr. X interview and many other defamatory statements and outright lies.

The jury considered each of those individually.

When you look at the awards for general damages on both counts you can see that the awards are actually well within the previous awards parameters. Jordan was awarded $490,000 in general damages for the first count. If you look at the Ray Columbus and Terry Quinn awards then this is in line, despite the fact that every single media outlet in NZ broadcast the defamations of Colin Craig. On the second count, Jordan was awarded $650,000 in general damages. That was for the distribution of 1.6 million booklets nationwide. That was arguably the most widespread defamation in New Zealand’s history. Even if you are defamed on One News you have only been exposed to around 350,000 people. Colin Craig massively exceeded that audience. Again that award is in line with other defamation awards.

The punitive damages will not be challenged. The jury felt that not only had Colin Craig defamed Jordan Williams but that he had done so in an egregious, deliberate and nasty fashion. Punitive damages are very rare.

In total, it appears that Jordan Williams won a record amount of damages. In reality, the damages were in line with previous settlements when looking at each count.

The only possible reduction may be because there could be the appearance of “double dipping” on the second award. But I guess that is for the lawyers to argue.

Just remember that any news reports that you see post the judgment are from journalists who weren’t there for the whole trial. Not a single journalist, except myself, was there for the whole trial. No one has the full information. If you want to follow a journalist then follow Anna Leask from the NZ Herald. She was there more than most.

My turn in court is next. I can’t wait. Then you will see a real record broken.

 

-TVNZ

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