A long-running defamation case which has left all parties ‘devastated’; A top broadcaster farewells her radio show; TVNZ executive takes up new CEO role; RNZ’s social media reminder for RWC reporter; A new role for RNZ political editor Jane Patterson and feedback on The Project’s pending demise.
It is a defamation case that has all the elements - featuring the horse set, an aggrieved lawyer, an editor and her magazine, a former top TVNZ news boss, and almost six years of legal battles.
It all stems from an article that appeared on the Horse & Pony magazine’s website in December 2017.
On one side of the argument is lawyer Kristin Cato, who was found by a jury to have been defamed by the article and awarded damages totalling $240,000. “The impact of the article has been devastating, both professionally and personally,” Cato told Media Insider.
On the other side is Horse & Pony, its editor Rowan Dixon and writer Jane Thompson. “It’s absolutely devastating ... a hideous nightmare. We are a very small member of the media with a small magazine covering equestrian,” Dixon told Media Insider.
Beyond that, the two women - both of whom are respected in their respective industries - are reluctant to comment further right now, ahead of the next legal chapter in the case, set down for May next year.
A High Court judgment from Justice Robinson backgrounds the case, the various legal arguments and why he agreed with a jury that Cato had been defamed.
At the heart of the saga is the New Zealand showjumping team’s six-week tour of Australia in March and April 2017. It was an allegedly troubled tour, with some members of the team complaining about the conduct of others.
Eventually, the parties agreed to mediation between themselves, without involving Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ).
Cato represented the complainants in mediation and on November 30, 2017, a statement was released saying the parties had reached a settlement.
It said the details of the settlement were confidential except to the extent that the sport’s authorities had been informed - the coach had agreed he would not hold any future role with Jumping NZ and his daughter, one of the team members, had apologised to the complainants for her conduct.
Horse & Pony, which was not sent the statement, published an article on December 3, 2017, under the heading ‘What goes on tour doesn’t stay on tour’.
According to the judgment, the article covered a range of angles - it backgrounded the tour, ESNZ’s response, the mediation hearing, and how the statement came to be released. It raised questions about ESNZ’s role and Cato’s own work on the case, including her releasing the statement to a website owned by her mother.
In August 2022, a jury found the article was defamatory of Cato.
According to Justice Robinson’s High Court judgment, the jury found the article both meant and was understood to mean that “the plaintiff had acted unethically and unprofessionally (or improperly) as counsel for the complainants” on several fronts, including:
- That she released a statement that damaged the coach and his daughter’s reputations without their consent;
- That she misused her position as a lawyer for the complainants to benefit her family by releasing the statement to her mother’s website;
- And that she hid her “misuse of position” by not identifying herself in the statement.
The jury did not agree with the defendants’ position that the lawyer had suffered only minor harm.
It awarded Cato compensatory damages of $225,000 and punitive damages of $15,000.
Justice Robinson then looked at whether the magazine, its editor, and journalist could rely on the public interest defence, set out in the previous Durie v Gardiner case - on the basis that the subject matter was of public interest and that communication was responsible.
The defendants pleaded that their article was a responsible communication on 13 matters of public interest including the performance of former Equestrian Olympians at international competitions; the conduct of ESNZ as a national sports organisation, and the conduct of ESNZ members while representing New Zealand.
The judge ruled that the subject matter of the article “broadly and as a whole was of public interest”.
However, “I do not consider the defamatory statements about the plaintiff related to matters of public interest.”
The judge also accepted the evidence of former TVNZ news boss Bill Ralston who, on behalf of Cato, said that the steps the defendants took to seek the plaintiff’s comment were “grossly insufficient”.
“In my view,” said the judge, “the seriousness of the defamatory allegations the jury found in the article far outweighs the relatively low public importance of its subject matter. Acting responsibly, the defendants should have fairly and squarely put those defamatory allegations to the plaintiff and given her time to respond. They did not.”
Justice Robinson said the article did not need to contain the defamatory allegations for the defendants to communicate on those matters. “For that purpose, the article did not need to refer to the plaintiff or her family at all”.
It is rare for defamation cases to reach court. Generally speaking, most are resolved with prompt actions early on, or with the intervention of lawyers at later stages.
Horse & Pony, its editor and journalist are now appealing the matter to the Court of Appeal, with experienced media lawyer Willy Akel brought on board for the hearing, which is set down for May next year.
It is understood the Durie v Gardiner case - the public interest and responsible communication principles - will be further tested. The case will be watched with a great deal of interest within the media industry.
By the time the appeal is heard, the case will be well into its seventh year - and stress continuing for all parties.
Laura’s Drive farewell
She is one of the hardest-working and most talented broadcasters in the New Zealand media industry.
And over the next 48 hours, Laura McGoldrick will be riding a wave of emotions: Farewelling today, for the final time, her Hits Drive radio show audience and, on Sunday, hosting - hopefully - a euphoric World Cup final between the All Blacks and South Africa on Sky.
She’ll be at Sky at 3.45am on Sunday, preparing for her pre-game and post-game shows. “Gone are the days when I used to come home at that time!”
She’s picking a tight final - the All Blacks by four.
“It’s nice to see - we started with that loss to France, and now we’re here. You really ride the wave.
“You either liked Fozzie [All Blacks coach Ian Foster] or you didn’t, you had your opinion on that. No matter what happens this weekend, he will be an All Black coach who took an All Black team to a World Cup final. No one can ever take that away from him and his family.”
This afternoon, McGoldrick will turn off the microphone for the final time on The Hits Drive show.
She has a long association with The Hits, having hosted its Breakfast show, the 3pm Pick-Up hour and - for the past two years - Drive with Brad Watson.
“It’s been a busy year,” says the broadcaster and mum of Harley and Teddy.
“My daughter’s at school now. Part of me is sure I was born to be a dance mum and I feel like [afternoons are] quite a crucial time of day for the kids. The morning is such a rush and I’m not sure I’m my best mum self then.”
She has the radio bug and says she’ll be returning at some stage “for sure”, continuing to be heard through the NZME network next year.
“It’s sad to be going, for sure [from Drive] but I’m looking forward to having the summer with the kids.”
She’s also been hosting Cricket World Cup coverage for Sky, and will be off to India for the knockout stages of the tournament next month.
Her husband, former Black Caps star Martin Guptill will be at home on dad duty, before he then heads to India himself after the World Cup for a cricket tournament. “He’s good, he’s still playing lots, doing some mentoring and playing around the world.”
McGoldrick’s versatility is highlighted further by the fact she was the very first host of the NZ Herald Focus digital news show, in 2015.
“I love them all,” she says of her various media platforms. “I love radio - I get to drive with people home and talk to them and tell stories. It’s real-life, everyday stories that you get to share and, you know, I can ask for mum advice.”
She suspects there might be some tears today.
“It’s just such a privilege to get to talk to people every day.
“I’ve shared about having my babies, troubles getting my second baby and they’ve indulged me. They’ve let me talk about stuff going on with me and then they’ve talked to me about stuff going on with them.
“So it’s sad. It’s like saying goodbye to a family.”
RNZ political editor’s new role
RNZ political editor Jane Patterson is moving off the press gallery frontline and into a new senior leadership role at the public broadcaster.
RNZ CEO Paul Thompson confirmed Patterson had accepted the role of director of editorial quality and training.
Thompson described the move as a “key appointment” and one of the recommendations of the independent review panel that looked into RNZ’s editorial processes following the saga of a sub-editor who added pro-Kremlin content to Russia-Ukraine stories.
“Jane brings a deep commitment to RNZ’s journalism and a desire to help our people succeed to this role where she will have responsibility for overseeing editorial quality and training across the organisation and ensure RNZ’s kaimahi have the knowledge and skills to produce work that helps achieve our vision of creating outstanding public media that matters,” says Thompson.
Patterson, who starts in the role on November 20, wasn’t available for an interview this week.
“I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, interview fascinating people, constantly learn new things, and cover national elections and stories that mark the history of New Zealand,” Patterson once told the St Hilda’s Collegiate Old Girls Association in an online profile.
Thompson said just over a quarter of the independent panel’s recommendations had been completed, “including the updating of RNZ’s editorial policy, management of wire service contracts, and logging of editorial training”.
“Work on the remaining recommendations is either in progress or due to begin before Christmas. RNZ will soon be advertising for a new political editor.”
RNZ reporter’s RWC social posts
An RNZ journalist on assignment at the Rugby World Cup in France has been reminded of the broadcaster’s social media policy following a raft of personal Instagram posts that seemed more akin to a travel and food/drink assignment rather than a sports tournament.
The journalist obviously had a good time outside of work in Paris - and good on her - but the case does raise an interesting dilemma for media bosses and employers more generally.
At the heart of it is the requirement for clear social media boundaries and ensuring journalists are across them. It nearly always comes down to common sense.
As a former editor-in-chief, I would often cringe at journalists breaking news stories on Twitter (now X) before their own outlets who actually paid their wages; and others who made political comments in regard to stories or issues they were covering.
I’ve probably been guilty myself in the past.
The RNZ case is different again.
There’s little doubt that covering the Rugby World Cup is a pinnacle of many journalists’ careers. It would be foolish to think they couldn’t or shouldn’t have a good time along the way.
But when there are severe cutbacks happening across the commercial media landscape, perception is also important, especially if you’re working for a public broadcaster that has just had an extra $25 million funding boost from taxpayers.
The RNZ journalist’s social media account featured what looked like some top-notch drinking and eating spots, complete with her downing champagne from the bottle.
Earlier this week, the Herald was tipped off that she had been spoken to about her posts.
“We are confident all our employees worked hard on this assignment and RNZ employees are dedicated to their work,” said an RNZ spokesman.
“There are occasions where we need to remind staff members of our social media policy and to take greater care not to blur on social media their work assignments with personal life.”
The spokesman said RNZ did not “cast judgment” on how staff spent their personal time, but he added: “In terms of the social media posts you identified, no RNZ money was spent on recreational events.”
The reporter’s work is now complete at the Cup, despite the All Blacks making the final.
“RNZ will have two reporters in Paris to cover the final game of the RWC,” said the spokesman.
“We have been constantly adjusting our plans along the way. This is typical when covering a large sporting tournament. Our plans change as teams are knocked out or advance.
“RNZ decided two reporters are sufficient to cover the final game. Two other RNZ employees have since returned after working in France during the earlier stages of the tournament (including our Pasifika teams-focused reporter).
“No staff member returned because of concerns or was recalled.
“The total cost for our RWC coverage has not yet been completed. "
One Good Text
It’s been a big six weeks for New Zealand media representatives in France. Congratulations to them all.
This week we catch up with NZ Herald rugby writer Liam Napier ahead of the World Cup final.
MediaWorks’ brave face
MediaWorks is putting on a brave face on its financial results, with an email from CEO Wendy Palmer leaked to Media Insider.
As revealed last week, auditors PWC say a “material uncertainty” exists that may cast “significant doubt” on whether the media company can continue as a going concern.
In an email yesterday to clients, Palmer told “MediaWorks’ financial performance was strong last year with revenue growth of almost 6%, and we’re working hard to deliver another solid performance in 2023. So while you may have seen stories recently on our ‘uncertain future’, to paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘The reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated’.”
Top TVNZ exec steps into CEO role
One of TVNZ’s top executives - and a name that had been widely speculated as a possible future CEO of the state broadcaster - has jumped ship, joining Great Southern Television (GSTV) as chief executive.
Cate Calver (previously Cate Slater) will replace GSTV’s co-founder and owner, Philip Smith, who will remain actively involved in the business as chief creative officer.
GSTV - which was established in 2002 by Smith and the late Sir David Levene - has produced a range of hits over many years including The Casketeers, Tracked and One Lane Bridge. Each of these shows has huge international audiences, through Netflix, Discovery and AMC respectively.
GSTV also produces the current affairs show The Hui.
Calver has been with TVNZ for the past 10 years, mainly as director of content but more recently as chief transformation officer.
Her move is the latest in a raft of changes on the executive teams of our mainstream media companies.
“With the industry in a state of change, we have secured New Zealand’s smartest head to guide us through this exciting phase,” said Smith.
“Cate is a strong leader and blue-sky thinker, and we are absolutely delighted that she has chosen to join the Great Southern whānau. As a creatively-led company with a strong cultural foundation and history of innovative thinking, Cate aligns perfectly with Great Southern Television’s values.”
Smith said Calver had led TVNZ’s content strategy “which has seen the network’s streaming service TVNZ+ transform from a catch-up service to a fully-fledged entertainment and sport streamer - providing the network with a globally acknowledged success story”.
“We know she will bring the same robust thinking to Great Southern Television.
“With so many international series currently in production at Great Southern Television, my focus will switch to the creation and packaging of content for local and international clients - allowing GSTV to take even more great NZ series to the world.”
Calver is a lawyer by trade, and before TVNZ spent seven years at sport and entertainment giant IMG in London and Auckland.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining Great Southern Television,” Calver said.
“Philip is an incredibly talented creative and executive and has built a strong independent production company with a fantastic reputation both locally and globally. I can’t wait to help steer it through its next chapter.”
GSTV has three dramas in production, Friends Like Her, Spinal Destination and Noob in deals with international partners Fifth Season, Hattrick and Oble respectively.
Feedback on The Project
The news that Three’s 7pm news show The Project is set to finish in December was met with a wave of feedback from Media Insider readers.
‘What crap are you going to show instead?’ - Barbara Barrett
‘What a horrible, horrendous thing to do to The Project. It is absolutely the very, very best show on TV!!!! I am absolutely distraught.’ - Dawn Cooper
‘It’s with disappointment to read of closure. And the loss of great staff. Best wishes to redundant staff of The Project - we will miss the humour.’ - Pam Glenside
‘There is a god after all. Now, if TV1 and TV3 could do the same with their god-awful morning programmes!’ - Brian Jones
‘What idiot has decided to axe The Project? It is the only thing worth watching on TV3. Start a petition to keep it.’ - Alan Murgatroyd
The Great NZ Road Trip
Next week’s Media Insider column will be coming to you somewhere from the heart of the Mainland.
Over the next two weeks, I’m on the road for the NZ Herald’s Great New Zealand Road Trip.
From coast to hinterland we’ll gauge the mood of the nation, uncover some great yarns and tell the stories of inspirational Kiwis.
Following a tough three-and-a-half years - including a pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis - we’ll be meeting notable as well as everyday Kiwis helping make a difference in their towns, regions, country, and the world.
In association with VW, and with the help of our NZME teams, I’m travelling the country in an all-electric VW ID.5 from this Monday, October 30, to Sunday, November 12.
We’d love to hear from you. Do you have a story that’s worth us covering, a person in your town or city worth speaking to?
PLEASE EMAIL: email@example.com
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.