October 21, 2021

Press Freedom

New Zealand

OPC Supports the National Press Club of New Zealand Amid a Defamation Suit that Threatens Press Freedom

The Overseas Press Club of America supports the National Press Club of New Zealand after a court decided against a journalist in a libel case and forced them to hand over source material used in their coverage.

John Bowie, the publisher of the news website Lawfuel, was accused of libel for covering allegations of harassment and abuse by Russian banker and California resident Sergey Grishin.

The country’s High Court ordered Bowie to pay substantial costs to Grishin’s New Zealand agents and to hand over all material relevant to the case, including email communication with a source.

Bowie is a member of the National Press Club of New Zealand, which is affiliated with the OPC through the International Association of Press Clubs (IAPC).

The president of the New Zealand club, Peter Isaac, noted that the action against Bowie was conducted by Grishin’s agents without Grishin’s presence in New Zealand. Grishin did not have any known corporate presence in New Zealand.

The case centers on a number of women who alleged abuse and harassment from Grishin.

Bowie said his primary source for his stories in Lawfuel was Jennifer Sulkess, a business associate of Grishin’s former wife.

The New Zealand press club wrote in a letter to the Law Commission, a group that reviews New Zealand law and makes legal recommendations to the country’s government, that “the case indicates that international stories covered in New Zealand can be suppressed through an action brought about by an absentee plaintiff.” Plaintiffs seeking to staunch an international story could scour coverage in New Zealand, file a lawsuit through intermediaries at arm’s length, and expect to acquire information about the story’s sources, Isaac said.

The decision effectively suppressed coverage of the case in other media, while exposing the journalist’s sources and background gathered for the story, he added.