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'Scud Stud' believes in freedom of press, but accuracy is paramount: lawyer

A lawyer for former journalist Arthur Kent says freedom of speech and the right to reputation are at the crux of his client's defamation lawsuit against Postmedia and columnist Don Martin.

Article was a 'hit piece' that used trumped-up language designed to mock and ridicule Kent, says his lawyer

Arthur Kent's defamation lawsuit is hearing closing arguments as it winds down. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A lawyer for former journalist Arthur Kent says freedom of speech and the right to reputation are at the crux of his client's defamation lawsuit against Postmedia and columnist Don Martin.

Kent Jesse says freedom of the press is a value Kent built his career on as a war correspondent, but the need for accuracy and fairness is paramount.   

Kent is suing the media company and Martin over a column that ran while Kent was seeking a seat for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2008 Alberta election.

Martin's column painted Kent as an out-of-control star candidate who had alienated party staff by speaking out against some of the party's policies.   

In closing arguments, Jesse described Martin's article as a hit piece that used trumped-up language designed to mock and ridicule Kent.   

Jesse says Kent was exercising his own freedom of speech by voicing concerns about the party's platform.

Postmedia is to deliver its closing address after Jesse is finished.   

The company has already told Justice Jo'Anne Strekaf that it believes it was practising responsible journalism and has emphasized the media's role in informing voters about candidates' actions.

Martin's column used unnamed sources and didn't include comment from Kent, who got the nickname "Scud Stud" while reporting for NBC during the Persian Gulf war.

"Alberta Conservatives have bestowed problem candidate Arthur Kent with a less flattering designation as he noisily blusters his way through their reeling election campaign -- the Dud Scud," Martin wrote.

Journalistic ethics at play

The Tories went on to win a majority, but Kent lost his race.   

The trial heard from campaign workers at the party level, who concurred that Kent was a divisive candidate who was causing the Tories problems.

Campaign workers at the local level said they noticed nothing wrong until the article ran.

The trial also heard from Martin's sources.

Lawyer Kristine Robidoux acknowledged sending him emails between Tory insiders complaining about Kent, but said she regretted it after seeing the article.

Party insider Alan Hallman, on the other hand, testified he had no problem feeding Martin information, because he thought Kent had embarrassed the party.

Journalistic ethics experts testified for both sides.

An expert called by Kent labelled Martin a "useful idiot" doing the bidding of his party sources, while an expert on the Postmedia side testified Martin did nothing wrong and based his column on sound research.

'I'd write it differently today'

The two central figures also testified.

Kent called the Martin article a bomb that cratered his campaign and has since prevented him from pursuing other political opportunities.

Martin testified that, while the article may have run on news pages, it was clearly an opinion piece based on extensive research.

Under cross-examination, however, Martin acknowledged that the line about Alberta Conservatives calling Kent the "Dud Scud" had come from only one source, whose name he couldn't remember.

"I'd write it differently today," Martin said.

The trial was originally supposed to be heard by a jury, but Strekaf dismissed jurors early on. She ruled the opening statement by Kent's lawyer was too prejudicial.

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