The Curse of Hell Pizza – Whale Oil and Matthew Blomfield
Our chums at Hell Pizza are back in the news again, obliquely through a series of articles allegedly defaming former franchisee and discharged bankrupt Matthew Blomfield which appear on New Zealand’s Whale Oil blogsite. What is it about Hell that attracts so much online opprobrium ? Cameron Slater – the blogger behind Whale Oil – is being instructed by the court to reveal the source of a series of emails to/from Blomfield which were used as the basis for un-flattering articles on the serial entrepreneur. Seems Blomfield was something to do with marketing for the Hell Pizza franchisor too – any connection with our old friend and scourge of “dorks” everywhere, Warren Powell ? As a blog site, Babble Talk is obviously interested in the court’s assertion that blogging is not a news medium and has no right to protection of source identities. It’s a hair yearning to be split. Blogs tend to contain opinion pieces and frequently publish strong and controversial individual comments. It is natural that blogs are not taken seriously and attract copy that is unresearched, provocative and disposable. However, if a blogger solicits anonymous ‘tips’ – as Whale Oil does – and actively researches its articles then does this lend the site credibility as a news source with the attendant protections in law that this offers ? Frankly, whether any publication is relevant or entertaining is up to the readers to determine. The fact that blogs are indeed publications means that they should enjoy the same legal basis as any other. Its a fine line, however, as this puts an emphasis on the blogger to tread gently between the exercise of free speech, libel and reporting opinion as fact.
Peddling Whale Oil
Cameron Slater’s site is reported as New Zealand’s most popular blog – quite an accolade in a country with a strong online culture and ethic – so is certainly worth a gander. Slater is credited with breaking the scandal surrounding this year’s newly elected mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, who had a 2 year+ affair with a younger staffer. A glance through its posts and the site lives up to its provocative reputation. There are articles which delight in titles such as “Two young creeps, a halfwit with a gun, gutless goons and two fat women”, “Fat Bastard Reduced to Begging” and “Lauraine Jacobs still at it slagging off Sanitarium”. In a recent post on laws surrounding paddling pool safety in New Zealand, Slater writes:
“More kids are bashed to death by Maori parents each year than that! Perhaps we should fence their households off?”
Not particularly charming stuff and there is a strong tonal link in the writing to right-wing opinion pedlars such as Britain’s Daily Mail (check out Slater’s attack on UK politician and wet blanket, Ed Miliband – great stuff). Locally, he is highly critical of the Herald newspaper, which in turn is surprisingly neutral towards Whale Oil. There is the usual blog fodder of hand-wringing about barmy politicians (almost exclusively the Greens and Labour, on the left of the limited NZ political spectrum) and union “ratbags”, the site is nonetheless honest about its slant. There are some neat pieces on current affairs and regular picks such as General Debate and Face of the Day which re-hash local content. Wikileaks this ain’t, but it has its place and clearly a strong following. Experience has shown that NZ has its share of fraudsters, sanctimonious fools and hypocrites all worthy of Whale Oil’s attention and derision. Right or wrong, Slater has stuck his neck out and named those accused under name suppression orders of sex crimes. He is linked to the ruling National Party through his dad, a former party President, but maintains that he is not their mouthpiece. He was briefly an editor of a local tabloid, now closed down. He is reported as having health problems and was accused publicly of having an affair in 2012 [bio info sourced from Wikipedia]. As some articles are genuinely news-breaking, it can only be assumed that his Tip line yields interesting material which he publishes (arguably) in the public interest. The site is poorly laid out and could do with a re-working but its aim is clearly to be seen, not applauded. Online ads, which presumably underpin the costs of hosting, are relatively unobtrusive and there are no apparent conflicts. Worth watching to see how Slater fares in his appeal against the recent ruling on Whale Oil’s journalistic status.