Steven Joyce: ‘NBR defamed me’

Former finance minister Steve Joyce says an NBR journalist told him its columnist Matthew Hooton had ‘gone completely troppo’ in a column about to be published by the business website about the MP.

Joyce gave evidence today in the High Court at Auckland in his defamation action against the NBR and its publisher Todd Scott over parts of that column and three subsequent tweets posted by Scott.

Joyce said he was given advance notice of the March 2018 Hooton column by NBR political journalist Brent Edwards as he sought comment from the National MP.

"He said he had a very disparaging article by Hooton whom he said had gone completely troppo or words to that effect," Joyce told Justice Pheroze Jagose.

The column was about the result of National's leadership contest in which Joyce was beaten by Simon Bridges. Its heading referred to the 'sacking' of Joyce by Bridges, and criticised Joyce for his actions in the party and as minister.

Joyce told Edwards it should not be published and later contacted Scott to be told it was too late as the NBR's print edition was already being printed. The publisher said he would ask his digital team if the column could be withheld from online but it appeared in both forms the next day.

Joyce texted Scott that day and received a reply saying: "Sorry mate. I put myself in your shoes and it's not pretty."

Scott offered a right of reply to Joyce but this was refused as Joyce considered that inadequate, amounting to a 'have you stopped beating your partner' defence.

Hooton later personally apologised and retracted, but NBR refused to do so and also declined a court recommendation that it did so.

Joyce says two parts of the Hooton article were defamatory - that he had used his position to advance the interest of friends he had at the telecommunications company Chorus and he had used his successor communications minister Amy Adams as a proxy to advance his personal agenda and had indulged in political blackmail.

He told the court: "I've never used Amy Adams or anyone else as a proxy ... I have got no friends at Chorus and have never attempted to favour their interests ... I've never blackmailed anyone to achieve political purposes or for any other reason."

He added: "I consider Mr Hooton's statements about blackmail have no basis in fact."

Joyce is suing Scott for three tweets between April and June 2018, one of which said Hooton might have lost his nerve but he, Scott, would fight for his right to say what he did, that "sources are solid".

Joyce is seeking a declaration by the judge that both NBR and Scott defamed him - and legal costs. He is not seeking financial damages.

The former MP's lawyer, Zane Kennedy, said in these tweets Scott "was waging a war" with Hooton and trying to undermine the apology and retraction from the columnist.

Joyce's legal team today won permission from Justice Jagose to call Hamish Price, a National campaign operative and political adviser, to give evidence on the tweets by Scott and several direct messages he subsequently received privately from the NBR chief. NBR and Scott had objected to Price's evidence being allowed.

However, Price was not permitted by the judge to give evidence of his understanding of what Scott's tweets referred to. He was not cross-examined by Phil Ahern, acting for NBR and Scott.

Scott, who was in court, did not give evidence.

The lawyers are expected to close the case tomorrow morning. 

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