Article Title:Peron Under Siege
Category:True Stories
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:10th March 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:649
Text:It sounds like something out of your worst nightmare. A member of Parliament uses the cloak of parliamentary privilege to pluck you – a private, law-abiding citizen – out of obscurity and broadcast your full name to the nation, along with totally unsubstantiated accusations that you are a paedophile, a threat to the children of the nation, a peddlar of pornography, and basically on the run from a foreign country because of the "dubious nature" of your business practices. Yesterday, this hellish scenario became reality for Jim Peron, executive director of the Institute for Liberal Values and a valued contributor to The first he heard of it was yesterday afternoon when a journalist phoned, tape recorder running, to ask him to confirm or deny allegations from one of our country's most high profile MPs that he is a paedophile. Peron's phone hasn't stopped ringing since. During the course of my brief interview at Peron's Aristotle bookstore in central Auckland this morning, several journalists phone and several more email questions through. A reporter from Radio New Zealand turns up at the door unannounced with a microphone just wanting “a few quick quotes”. At this time of day, Aristotle's would be normally open for business – it is Peron's livelihood after all. Today, however, he has been forced to close. “I feel under seige,” he says. “Yesterday I spent half the day in rage, and half the day in tears. I haven't felt like this since living in South Africa, where my partner and I suffered two armed attacks on our property, and we lived in a house with bars on the outside and inside of the windows and doors. What Winston Peters did indicates a complete lack of human decency, a willingness to destroy somebody's life just so he can make political points in an election year.” Aristotle's is not a porn store. It mainly sells books on politics and philosophy, with subjects of interest to classical liberals. Even arch-conservative Newstalk ZB host Leighton Smith (who has already come to Peron's defence on air over Peters' allegations) is an occasional customer, who has often raved on his show about the range of titles Aristotle's has on offer. Peters himself should know better. Peron first encountered him at a business function held in a downtown hotel, at which the editor of the Financial Times was a keynote speaker. Aristotle's had four tables worth of books on sale, representing a cross-section of the store's general inventory. “He came by, browsed the table, he picked up one of our catalogues, he noted a spelling mistake and made some snide remark about it and moved on,” Peron recalls. “He didn't seem to find anything there that he found extremist or pornographic at that time.” Peron doubts that Peters even knows who he is, or has made the connection between the faceless man he slandered in Parliament and the bookseller whose wares he perused at a downtown function, although it scarcely matters now. The crap is out of the bag, and thanks to parliamentary privilege, Peters is totally immune from a libel suit as long as he doesn't repeat his allegations outside the house. He has refused to do so, despite an excruciating grilling from National Radio's Sean Plunket, who demanded this morning that Peters answer “yes” or “no” to whether he even stood by the allegations. Peters' response was to label Plunket “perverse” for saying that Peters had no evidence to back up his accusations. It would seem that Peters has not feared to tread where one of our major newspapers wouldn't last year. Peters' allegations are not new – Peron was first contacted by a reporter late last year. “He spent several weeks investigating it, and contacted me literally at the last minute,” says Peron. “He said he was on deadline and wanted responses. I tried to answer as best as I could what he was asking. He called me the next day to tell me he and his editor had cancelled the story, for three reasons: one, they couldn't find anything substantial to back up any allegations. Two, it wasn't newsworthy. And three, it was defamatory.” Under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, Peters was immune from reasons one and three, and as soon as he opened his mouth changed the score for reason two – making it newsworthy. Peron has since learned that the reporter who contacted him in December had sourced his information from one of Peters' staff, who in turn had sourced it from someone else who wanted deniability for the whole affair, someone whom Peron says has been trying to smear him for the last two years. Peron won't name this person, but says he knows who it is. It seems obvious that this original “source” has strong political and media connections which allow them to so skillfully involve themselves in what can only be described as "information laundering". Whether the smears against Peron were intentional or not, he is well aware that the labels his name have been associated with are very hard to shake off. "I don't think you can ever get rid of those types of accusations. That's why people make them, they know you can't. People will remember somebody was accused of X, they remember it was discussed, but they forget what the details were, and they forget what the outcome was. All they can remember is the person and the accusation." Peron doesn't really know how to respond. He says he feels helpless, and worries about the effect all this is having on his partner of ten years, whom he emigrated to New Zealand with. "I've talked to defamation attorneys and they tell me what he says in Parliament is privileged, so that makes it very difficult," he says. "Anybody can get up in Parliament and say whatever they want about anyone in this country, and they're immune. I find it interesting that the one place in New Zealand where people are not required to be honest is Parliament."     Chris Banks - 10th March 2005
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