VICTORIA UNIVERSITY are distancing themselves from the Whale Oil book fiasco and the embarrassing role one of its leading academics played in the costly saga.
Steven Price promotes himself as a Barrister specialising in media law – and on paper the credentials are impressive. He has a law degree with first class honours along with a masters degree in journalism, which ordinarily would make him uniquely qualified to assess a book like Whale Oil which featured a number of extraordinary, and potentially defamatory statements about people who were connected to Cameron Slater.
Price knows Slater well. He has given legal advice on Nicky Hager’s last five books, and was involved in the legal challenge to the Police raid on his house following the publication of Dirty Politics. He also helped Hager defeat an attempt by Slater to access his source material using the Privacy Act.
But there’s unlikely to be much boasting about his work on the Margie Thomson authored Whale Oil book given Marc Spring’s successful defamation claim and a second claim still in the courts.
“It’s not a great look especially if you are used to prancing around the faculty of law like a peacock,” said Spring. “To have a lay litigant destroy the book must be bloody embarrassing”
For the University of Victoria’s Mark Hickford the topic of Steven Price and Whale Oil was not one that he wanted to go into at any great length despite our probing.
We wanted his thoughts on whether the University’s credibility had been damaged by Steven Price endorsing a book which legally was a defamation minefield. We also asked whether Mr Price should have told the University he was working on the project given its potential for trouble .
Hickford said Mr Price’s involvement had nothing to do with the University even though he was a member of the faculty of law.
Price did not return our calls, but in the appendix of the Whale Oil book he does ironically provide some insight to defamation cases, talking about how they don’t give plaintiffs what they want, which is usually an apology and a correction quickly enough to provide some vindication.
Marc Spring won a successful defamation claim against the book and said “Price wouldn’t be too popular at the moment”. “You have to wonder whether he (Price) even read the book,” said Spring.
“This guy claims to be the top guy in the country, but he’s clearly wet behind the ears. He needs to learn you cannot call someone a criminal when they are not one. It’s not like lawyers”.
“This has been one giant cockup and Steven Price needs to front up and say he’s sorry. Admit he missed things he shouldn’t have, and then make sure he does better – a lot better – next time”.
Spring goes on to say “when I heard the interview by Jesse Mulligan at Radio New Zealand where Matt Blomfield stated the following “…Most of what we’re talking about has been litigated, I mean the book was three years [to write], Margie [Thomson] had 30,000- 40,000 pages of documents to go through to get to a point where she could comfortably write down what happened with the story. And it follows [with] the litigation risk, which everyone’s very concerned about just because of the individuals involved, after finishing the book we had this extensive period where we used Steven Price, who’s a media lecturer in media law down at Victoria University. And he meticulously went through every line of the book. And anywhere where there was a fact he said, ‘I want to see the document that supports the fact’, anywhere where there was opinion, he wanted to see the documents supporting the opinion. So I can hand on heart say that I’m absolutely confident that nothing in that book runs the risk of litigation, because it’s all true…”
Spring says “so we have the so called defamation law expert, Steven Price going meticulously through the book line by line where he was checking facts against documents… so I wonder what documents Price was actually looking at?”
“I do love the last line from Blomfield saying it’s all true… if only the book was true, then the publisher’s insurers would not have been put to such good use”