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English calls lawyers over GayNZ story

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By News Staff - 26th September 2007

National deputy leader Bill English says he is consulting his lawyers after a story revealed his teenage son posted anti-gay abuse on his Bebo webpage.

The Bebo webpage seemed to have been deleted yesterday afternoon as the mainstream media looked into the story.

English, who has so far refused to talk with, said he had no comment to make on the story, but later issued a statement saying he was seeking legal advice on the article, which he said made unsubstantiated claims "about the supposed views" held by his son.

"I consider this a disgusting and sick attack on a young teenager," he told the Christchurch Press.

"I expect any statement I make to be scrutinised – no-one expects the same scrutiny of every comment by anyone on an open teenage social networking site.

"All family members of public figures should be alerted to the fact that any internet activity is now fair game for politics."

National leader John Key said on TVNZ's Breakfast programme the children of politicians should not be dragged into public debates.

"It's a bit of a despicable act... This is being raised, I would argue with you, for political reasons - not because he is anyone else's son, but because he is Bill English's son," said Key.

"There are thousands of young New Zealanders out there that write on social networking sites. They're not being brought to task and politicians' children should be left out of the public domain."

Mr Key admitted the conversation on the social networking sites could be "pretty rugged".

"But the reality is this has gone on since kids started talking behind the bike sheds. Part of growing up is expressing yourself. I'm not defending it, I'm just simply saying these sites are out there," he said.'s content editor Jay Bennie says he stands by the content of the story, and believes there are no legal issues.

"The issue of homophobia generated on the internet is particularly important and the vicious comments contained on the page could not go unchallenged, particularly in view of the young man's father's stance on homosexuality and 'family values'," he says.

"Bill English had several weeks in which to discuss this matter with, or to address the content of the website. Since first advising Mr. English of the content of the webpage and our interest in it, we not been able to have constructive discussion on the matter with him or his spokespeople. We might have resolved the matter out of the public arena.

"Our messages were by turns ignored, or met with dismissive and threatening responses."

As to whether Mr. English's son has been unfairly singled out, and the charge that other teenagers posting similar information have not been targeted, Bennie says: "those other young people do not have parents - political or otherwise - who have made such strong public statements on homosexuality and 'family values'."

Bennie says's objective in running the story was to expose the damaging homophobic culture on young people's social networking sites, and the hypocrisy of a political leader - of whatever political persuasion - who refused to acknowledge or act on the destructive homophobic comments placed in a public forum by a family member for whom Mr. English has publicly accepted responsibility.

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Ref:, Christchurch Press (m)

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