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ALLEGED LIBEL.

MS. STALLWORTHY, M.P., SUES . A DARGAVUJLE PUBLISHER. '"'" An action waß begun before Mr. Justice Edwards and a jury of four at the Supreme Court this, morning, whereby John Stallworthy, M.P., publisher of the "Wairoa Bell," sought to recover £100 damages from Francis Augustus Jones, in respect of an alleged libellous publication in the newspaper "The North Auckland Times" last September. Dr. Bamford appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. F. K. Baume, K.C., and Mr. W. Endean for the defendant. Prior to the opening of the case, Mr. T. Cotter announced that he was appear- j ing in the case of StalLworthy v. Geddes and Blomfield, and by agreement between, Dr. Bamford and himself he asked that his Honor take note of the following arrangement:—(l) That the jury in this case be the jury in the case Stallworthy v. Geddes and Blomfield; (2) that the evidence taken in the present case be, considered as having been given also j in the case against Geddes and Blomfield; (3) that either party have the right, to recall and cross-examine the witnesses. His Honor noted the application. In setting forth the statement, of claim Dr. Bamford said it was alleged that onj or about September 25, 1908, a certain publication- appeared in the "North Auckland Times" of a false and malicious I nature, and exceedingly damaging to the' well-known paper "The AVairoa Bell," which circulated in the same district.; The publication was a certain letter, signed F. J. Dargaville, and accusing thy "Wairoa Bell" of containing wilfully inw-: leading, untruthful, and biased Teports 1 of the proceedings of the Hobson County Council. The publication was admitted by the defendant, said Dr. Bamford, but' it was argued that the objectionable paragraph was culled from the Auckland "Observer," and was printed without' malice, and that it was not false. The plaintiff, as a consequence of the publication, claimed that his business had beenj damaged to the extent of £10*8, which was sued for, and the defendant contended that such was not the case—that no detriment had been occasioned to plaintiff's business by the said publication. Arthur John Stallworthy, son of the . plaintiff, said he was engaged on the staff of the "Wairoa Bell." The paper had been in business for about 18 years, witness having reported for it during about fifteen years. The "North Auckland Times" circulated in the same district as the "Wairoa Bell." Witness' attention was called to the paragraph referred to, and, having secured a copy from one of the local agents, be obtained legal advise. He considered the article to be very damaging.

To Mr. Baume: His duty during the past three or four years was the management of the paper and reporting upon it. He also edited. Previously he hadoccupied the same position, but not to such a responsible extent. On November 15 last they had a fire in the office, and the paper was printed by one of their own staff at the "North Auckland Times" office. Aa a matter of fact did not the "Times" supply you with everything except the type and men to set it up—the machines, paper, ink, etc? —Yes, I believe it was something like that. They lent us one of the machines. It was only a small extra we published. And you did not at any time publish thanks or any acknowledgment for that courtesy?—-No, I don't think we did. Witness admitted that "the paper produced was a "copy of the "Wairoa Bell" published on April 26, 1907, and the leading article headed "Strange Council Proceedings'* wan written cither by himself or his father. In this leading article, which was produced, the chairman of the Hobson County Council, Mr. Dargaville, and a member, Mr. Trounson, were accused of having, in .calling for fresft tenders for advertising, acted upon other than impartial motives. Witness admitted that in the issue of the "Wairoa Bell," June 7, Mr Dargaville was referred to as pleading pitifully to be sent as a delegate to Wellington. The report of the council proceedings was supplied by a member, but witness himself introduced the words "pleaded pitifully." He did so because, having been at the previous meeting, lie knew that a similar scene was enacted. Ho considered himself perfectly justified in having used the words, notwithstanding the fact that lie was not present. Mr. Webbe, the member who supplied the report, afterwards complained of the words. After this a piggery, which was owned by the witness, was the subject of complaint in the council, and a petition was placed which, in his opinion, contained libellous statements. But when the local constable visited the piggery, he reported favourably upon it. Witness did not report the piggery discussion at the council.

In reply to Mr. Baume, witness agreed that on the general principle it was just as important for truthfulness and accuracy that they should publish matters against himself ns against others. Then why did you not do so in this case? Because tbe circumstances were exceptional. I considered the statement of the petition to be exaggerated and libellous. I considered the whole thing to be a piece of political trickery. At this stage a copy of the Wairoa Bill of September 1, 1908, was produced by Mr Baume, in which 'the article appeared, headed, "Hobson County Council." The article was a report of the proceedings at a meeting of this body held at Aratupu on the previous Friday to "consider the question of offering the Council site in Victoria, Dargaville, for sale. A certain resolution was reported to have been declared carried on the chairman's casting vote, and following on this a hot dispute occurred, the resolution being challenged. Several mem- ! bers in the course of the argument referred to one X another as "Liars," and tbe article ended with the intimation that the meeting broke up in tumult. His Honor: It looks almost like an account of Little Peddlington in the "Etonswill Gazette." Mr Baume (to witness, who attended the meeting and was reported to have been also called a liar for remarking that one of the members did not show his hand): Do you swear that Mr Dar.gaville called you a liar?— Yes; that is so. , "I want to know why you took any part in the proceedings. You were there as a reporter." His Honor: That is not the question. Witness went on to say that he believed Mr Dargaville said that Cr Downs was a liar. Dargaville and Downs were very excited, and he thought there was some excuse for them. Downs replied: "And you are a liar, too." It appeared that in consequence of the report, Mr Dargaville wrote a letter to the ''Observer," which was complained about. ...... "When (did the chairman actually leave the chair?" asked counsel. ~• Witnesa? When I say leaving the chair I mean to say leaving the table. Q&j

Trounson was .ihC the chair, and he was very excited. There.was quite a tumult going on. After McGregor said he could not hear owing to the tumult, the chairman finally left the chair. And it was then that the chairman declared the meeting closed. Witness went on to say he had never.been at a meeting at which there was a fiercer tumult. Their paper was now advertising for the Council for nothing. For several years they had done it for 2d or 3d an inch, and it was then raised to 3/ per inch by combined tender. The next lowest tender was 5/, and it was for that one that theirs was thrown out. He was aware that in 1007 an notice of motion was : given by the chairman to the effect that he would move at the next meeting that as the newspaper reports were frequently inaccurate and misleading, the re- ; porters be requested to compile accurate "■eports. But that motion was lost by j 4 to 2. Only a few months prior to this, the reporters had been complimented upon the accuracy of their reports. Under re-examination, the witness said that his father directed the policy of the paper. It was just before the general elections at which witness' father was a candidate for Parliament -that the fire occurred at the Office. The Friday following witness met Mr. Jones, who said Ihe had been on the point of offering assistance. The Monday after he again met Jones, who said he had seen Mr. Stallworthy, senr., and had asked him 'to thank him (Mr. Jones) through his paper for the assistance rendered. This advertisement had not been sent in at the time, and Mr. Jones expressed the hope that it would come along before the j paper went to press. "The whole thing was to my mind a political dodge to disguise the bitterness of the fight and ; slay sympathy for us," declared the wit!ness. They printed a small extra at the "North Auckland Times" Office for us three days after the election. Mr. Jones I had offered to do what he could for them after they had got out the Austrian paper, which he said they were printing j the next day," said the witness, who went on to say that such a concession was, from a political point of view, too I late for the "Wairoa Bell."

Dr. Bamford submitted that all that was necessary to prove in support of the claim was the actual publication. The onus of proving the truth « otherwise of ths matter published lay on the defendant.

Mr. Baume, In opening the defence, claimed that the letter puolished was one respecting a matter of great public interest. The North Auckland "Times" had equal interest with the Wairoa "Bell," and the people generally throughout the disferct were interested. The report in the "Bell" was different from th.it published in the " Times," and Mr. Dargaville's letter corroborated the tatter's report.

In reply to the Judge, Mr. Baume tsaid that he asked fbr a non-suit on the ground that the occasion itself was a privileged one, relating to matters of considerable public interest. His Honor ruled it was not privileged. Everybody—newspapers or anybody else —had the right to comment upon public matters iv a fair manner. There was a distinction between a report aud the comments of a leading article. S» for the report, there was nothing in it whatever, supposing it to be perfectly true, to justify the publication of libellous statements about the plaintiff, said his Honor, who went on to say that he could not see any point to reserve in respect to a non-suit. Mr. Baume, addressing the jury, then .went on to. contend, that a. number of the statements that had appeared in the "Wairoa Bell" were misleading, and had been shown to be misleading. ■ His Honor interrupted to remind Mr. Baiiine that he was not charged with publishing comments, but with having published libellous reports. There was all the difference im his mind between a report, which was a record of facts and a deduction which sometimes was drawn —deductions might be unjustifiable, unworthy, and libellous. He ruled that Mr. Baume could not call evidence in regard to anything which was not purely a report.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AS19090219.2.50

Bibliographic details

ALLEGED LIBEL., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 43, 19 February 1909

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1,862

ALLEGED LIBEL. Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 43, 19 February 1909

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