The troubled National Business Review newspaper and its publisher Todd Scott have threatened defamation action against Newsroom over a story which covered former finance minister Steven Joyce’s legal complaint over a Matthew Hooton column.

NBR, which has lost a series of top editors and writers this year and suffered a painful website relaunch amid social media feuds by Scott, sent Newsroom a letter today demanding the article’s removal, an apology and $15,000 towards their costs.

The letter, from mid-level law firm Morrison Kent, says the article by BusinessDesk editor Pattrick Smellie defamed NBR and Scott.

The article reported statements from Joyce’s legal letter to the NBR over the Hooton column. Hooton subsequently left the NBR and apologised to Joyce in April.

NBR is defending the Joyce defamation action and Scott even talked about suing his former columnist Hooton for a column the NBR had decided to publish. 

At the time, Newshub reported Scott saying Joyce would not get either a retraction or an apology. He claimed if Joyce was successful in launching legal action, NBR would subpoena a number of senior National MPs including Simon Bridges and Amy Adams.

Morrison Kent’s letter to Newsroom said its clients “might be prepared to accept some level of criticism or sniping from other media organisations without the need to take matters further” but not in this case because of the alleged seriousness of Joyce’s allegations, which were published.

It went on to lecture Newsroom on legal defences, including its analysis of the new public interest defence to defamation set by the Court of Appeal this year.

“Our clients are prepared to take this matter further, but would prefer that the matter were resolved by agreement,” the letter said.

It then demands removal of the BusinessDesk story, and instructs Newsroom a suggested apology would need to be “boxed in bold” on the website, a condition historically sought from printed newspapers.

The letter ends by seeking $15,000 “plus GST and disbursements” to help cover NBR and Scott’s legal bills. Similar legal threats are understood to have been made to other media.

NBR‘s legal costs for the Joyce case and other disputes could well be high. Scott, who has poured out his personal and professional issues on Twitter this year, alleges in tweets that his website developer did not deliver as promised on a major relaunch in July and the parties have been in dispute over that project.

On top of its technology and legal challenges, NBR has seen columnists Sir Bob Jones and David Cohen join Hooton in leaving its newspaper and has lost former editor Duncan Bridgeman and digital editor Chris Keall to the New Zealand Herald, news editor Nick Grant to TVNZ, award-winning journalists Karyn Scherer and Jenny Ruth and a clutch of contracted media stars like Simon Dallow, Susan Wood and Andrew Patterson from its radio operations.

Newsroom does not accept the allegations made in the Morrison Kent letter.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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