No need to run to lawyers Colin

By Andrew Bonallack

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Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

ONE of the most basic teachings a journalist gets is that those who aspire to public office, or those who are in public office, are fair game for criticism.

But it seems Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, even in an election year, can't shrug his shoulders about it.

He's gone to his lawyers to issue a threat of defamation proceedings to Green Party leader Russel Norman after he claimed, at Auckland's Big Gay Out event, that Mr Craig believed a woman's place was in the kitchen.

He's not getting an apology from an unrepentant Dr Norman, it seems, so it will be interesting to see if it proceeds. In previous situations, people have backed down from Mr Craig's lawyers with apologies.

The concept of criticising public figures became strengthened in case law when ex-Prime Minister David Lange failed in his bid to win a case against political scientist Joe Atkinson, who described Mr Lange as a lazy prime minister.

But it's also a question of common sense.

In an election year, politicians could probably spend months - and thousands of dollars - on defamation proceedings if they were fragile enough to take offence at every insult offered.

I've only encountered Mr Craig once in Masterton, during a debate in 2012 on the then Marriage Amendment Bill, also known as the gay marriage bill, which had yet to pass at the time. I was not the editor; but assisting as a reporter.

Mr Craig struck me as a man who chose his words carefully, making his stand but keeping completely focused on the task at hand - that gay marriage lacked a New Zealand mandate and that "nature itself sets in place a mum and a dad as the ideal relationship".

He left it up to the church representative in the debate to basically declare, via the Scripture, that homosexuality was a sin.

I guess a man who takes care to appear reasonable, and not "phobic", will take exception when someone tries to put labels on his personal standards.

Perhaps it's because we may all have views on Mr Craig, but he's a little hard to pin down. But he's going to have to learn to fight battles with robust speech, not the courts.

Running to lawyers because people aren't being nice seems a little controlling. Welcome to an election year - feel free to bite back.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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