Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Media > Meltdown continues at the Oz: good faith reporting no defence

Meltdown continues at the Oz: good faith reporting no defence

December 3rd, 2010

The meltdown at the Oz continues, with an “offer you can’t refuse” from editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell to academic and twitterer Julie Posetti. Conceding that Posetti accurately reported statements by former environment reporter Asa Wahlquist in two brief tweets, Mitchell is nonetheless demanding an apology, and now offers a re-educational tour of the News Ltd newsroom as part of the deal.

This behavior would be beyond bizarre even from an ordinary corporation. To sue a private individual for reporting, in good faith, a statement made in public represents a threat that could be applied to just about anyone. It’s worth bearing in mind that there is no longer any distinction in Australian law between libel and slander, so the law applies equally to someone who repeats, down at the pub, something they heard at a public event. A company that tried such a thing (the only comparable case I can recall is the Gunns fiasco in Tasmania) would rightly be derided.

But for a newspaper, and one that has repeatedly pushed the bounds of defamation in its dealings with critics (see the sidebar for a relatively mild example), to undertake such actions is a spectacular assault on freedom of speech, one that only the Murdoch press, or maybe the state-controlled media in places like Singapore, would be capable of. It’s hard to see how any self-respecting journalist can continue to work for this deplorable operation.

In this context, it’s striking that Mitchell has apparently not sued Wahlquist or obtained a retraction (he has received a denial of claims that were never made, such as that he personally called or emailed her). Presumably, at least Oz journalists who have been happy to join the hunt against tweeters and bloggers are not yet ready to take on their own colleagues in this way.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Media Tags:
  1. Lord Sir Alexander ‘Dolly’ Downer
    December 3rd, 2010 at 10:15 | #1

    John, of course it’s ridiculous of Mitchell to sue, but it wouldn’t hurt you to acknowedge that one of the tweets – about him personally making her change her stories – was not accurate. Wahlquist didn’t say that.

    These online ‘gate’ things bring out the silliness in all sides.

  2. paul walter
    December 3rd, 2010 at 10:26 | #2

    No, Id imagine “re-education” in the mind of someone like Mitchell would entail a Gitmo or Woomera experience, or likely a visit to the Stepford district hospital.

  3. December 3rd, 2010 at 12:06 | #3

    “self-respecting journalist”

    Can you name one who IS?

  4. BilB
    December 3rd, 2010 at 15:14 | #4

    Maybe they’ve replaced cafeine with testosterone in the coffee at the oz.

  5. paul walter
    December 3rd, 2010 at 15:39 | #5

    Arsenic might have been a better bet.

  6. BilB
    December 3rd, 2010 at 15:46 | #6

    Maybe something radioactive, arsenic may actually strengthen them..while making them even more alien in the process

    http://www.gizmag.com/nasa-discovers-new-bacteria/17147/?utm_source=Gizmag+Subscribers&utm_campaign=544a6427e7-UA-2235360-4&utm_medium=email

  7. Donald Oats
    December 3rd, 2010 at 17:08 | #7

    Off to the re-education camps for Posetti!

  8. Fran Barlow
    December 3rd, 2010 at 18:25 | #8

    @Lord Sir Alexander ‘Dolly’ Downer

    but it wouldn’t hurt you to acknowedge that one of the tweets – about him personally making her change her stories – was not accurate. Wahlquist didn’t say that

    Audio backs tweets in editor’s defamation row

    Hmmm:

    It took me quite a while to realise that my editor at The Australian, editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, was taking a political view and he goes down the eco fascist line,” she said.

    “He sees climate change as being a political movement that the left has now adopted that will, aims to destroy everything that he loves and values.”

    She went on to say that it was “really debilitating”.

    Ms Posetti tweeted: “Wahlquist:’Chris Mitchell (Oz Ed) goes down the Eco-Fascist line’ on #climatechange.’ I left because I just couldn’t do it anymore”.

    [...]

    The other thing that was happening at The Australian before I left was the editor-in-chief and the edits becoming much more prescriptive and you saw that in the lead-up to the election, where you were actually being told what to write,” she said.

    Ms Posetti tweeted: “Wahlquist: ‘In the lead up to the election the Ed in Chief was increasingly telling me what to write.’ It was prescriptive.

    Fair comment, surely.

  9. December 3rd, 2010 at 20:49 | #9

    Hopefully Julie Posetti will call his bluff and just say no.

  10. December 4th, 2010 at 00:20 | #10

    boneheaded to be sure. would it be out of place to mention integrity is a one way street

  11. paul walter
    December 4th, 2010 at 07:01 | #11

    THe Oz does Eco Fascism?
    That’s a turn up for the books!
    Not this side of Armageddon, any more than they do other forms of fascism, down at “Die Sturmer”, would I have thought.
    And surely not Mitchell, epitome of fairness and balance resolutely presenting news,
    “without fear or favour”?
    This is the fellow who complains loudest about libel laws. He loudly proclaims that people of his integrity only, can be trusted in a more relaxed legal environment.
    What do readers think?

  12. Donald Oats
    December 4th, 2010 at 07:23 | #12

    On the heart of the topic that started all of this, NCDC State of the Climate reports that:

    For January–October 2010, the global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average of 14.1°C (57.4°F) and tied with 1998 as the warmest January–October period on record.

    Remember, 1998 was the tail-end of one of the biggest el Nino events since records began, and el Nino years are well known for being above average hot years. This year to date has been a fairly decent la Nina year, and a low sunspot year, indicating it is still near the solar cycle minimum.

    Or in a tweet even Chris Mitchell could understand, “It is getting hotter by degrees; this time, usual suspects can’t be blamed!”

  13. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    December 4th, 2010 at 07:32 | #13

    Fran Barlow,

    It’s the third point. I don’t think Wahlquist said the editor in chief personally told her what to write. And anyway newspapers don’t work like that, it will go through channels. Posetti being a journalism lecturer should have known that, rather than making the wrong assumption.
    Incidentally, it seems the News Ltd writers (eg Overington and Devine) are dumping it all on Wahlquist and being gentle with Posetti. It was a self-indulgent rant to be sure, but she didn’t say Mitchell personally told her what to write. (Which is not to say he doesn’t have an extreme view on global warming that permeates the whole paper.)

  14. Alice
    December 4th, 2010 at 08:06 | #14

    They replaced the editors coffee at the Age with HGH. Now they think they are human. Reducation definitely needed so the Age can bark orders to their puppies again.
    Step out of line and they’ll take the leash off Devine.

  15. Fran Barlow
    December 4th, 2010 at 09:10 | #15

    @Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer

    but she didn’t say Mitchell personally told her what to write. (Which is not to say he doesn’t have an extreme view on global warming that permeates the whole paper.)

    Your argument here could be described as rabbinical lawyerliness, a.k.a special pleading. Yes, Wahlquist’s use of the passive voice introduces a grey area into the causal chain betyween Mitchell’s views and the instructions ostensibly being given to Wahlquist, but really, on Wahlquist’s words in , Posetti added 2 and 2 and at worst returned 4.1 when she might have stopped at 4. It is inconceivable that Mitchell would have been unaware of what was going on or concerned about it, or could not have clarified policy had he wanted to, so de facto he was instructing her through his express views and failure to stand up for journalistic integrity.

    In law, one bears vicarious liability for the actions of one’s agents and one less one can show that the agents had no business at all interpreting the principal’s wishes in the way that they did to ground their acts, the principal is deemed to have committed the acts. Whether Mitchell personally instructed Wahlquist or left it to a minion-intermediary or Wahlquist herself to interpret his wishes is beside the point.

    While we normally think of telling as a speech act, it need not be. There’s an amusing scene in The Naked Gun (I watched it for the umpteenth time last night) in which Nielsen’s character, Lieutenant Drebin, goes to meet the arch villain, Vincent Ludwig at a feedlot and abbattoir. A gunman calls to Drebin and says:

    Hey, Drebin! I’ve got a message for you from Vincent Ludwig! and begins firing upon him with a handgun.

    Drebin takes cover and responds:

    I can’t hear you, don’t fire the gun while you talk!

    Really, Mitchell is trying to hold Posetti to the Drebin standard of proof.

  16. jakerman
    December 4th, 2010 at 13:31 | #16

    I don’t think Wahlquist said the editor in chief personally told her what to write.

    This is a strawman that Mitchell is pushing as hard as his vast resources can. Editors do not need to tell one what to write in person, they can tell one what to write with carrots and sticks.

    Micheal Parenti gives Some examples .

    But there are many tools in the kit for someone in the special position of Mitchell.

  17. PB
    December 4th, 2010 at 13:45 | #17

    It gets more bizarre. Apparently Caroline Overington acting on Mitchell’s behalf has contacted Jonathan Holmes (lately of media watch) for advice. This desperate search for a friend came about because Holmes pointed out that given current defamation laws, Posetti arguably, made one small error in her reporting of what Asa Wahlquist said that might, in the hands of a capable barrister, be seen as a misrepresenation.

    But how extraordinary that The Australian, who as others have noted, respond to any criticism with the most ferocious vitriol, asking someone from Mediawatch for advice. Mitchell must be feeling very lonely. And how strange to use Overington as a mouth-piece

    Meltdown is right.

    Read all about it at http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/12/03/3084200.htm

  18. paul walter
    December 4th, 2010 at 13:58 | #18

    I’d say Overington, from what I’ve seen of her and her handiworks, is as disreputable as Mitchell. I suppose if the brown paper bag were filled enough, even Holmes might be persuaded to alibi them.
    Most of the rest of the ABC seem to have sold out by now, so what’d be the diff?

  19. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    December 4th, 2010 at 14:27 | #19

    Whatever Fran.

  20. Fran Barlow
    December 4th, 2010 at 15:01 | #20

    @Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer

    Whatever Fran.

    Fair enough. I take it you withdraw your claim agains PrQ.

    Progress!

  21. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    December 4th, 2010 at 15:05 | #21

    Er, no. Have fun though.

  22. paul walter
    December 4th, 2010 at 15:18 | #22

    Ignore him/her/it, FB. Its just trolling for no constructive reason. Dolly, you full-well how intimidation works in an employer employee situation like this one. And Mitchell is no cleanskin when it comes to these sorts of staged antics- get a few repeats of Media Watch and see what they’ll be carrying on him, over a given year.

  23. paul walter
    December 4th, 2010 at 15:20 | #23

    Fancy trying to force another person to lie over some thing as important as enviro and climate change.

  24. jquiggin
    December 4th, 2010 at 15:43 | #24

    “about him personally making her change her stories”

    You appear to have been misled by Mitchell’s non-denial denial, and have since dug yourself to the point of inability to read. The word “personally” appears nowhere in the tweet, and without it, your claim collapses. Wahlquist did say Mitchell was driving the process, and neither she nor Posetti mentioned personal contact.

  25. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    December 4th, 2010 at 15:54 | #25

    Paul, if you read my first comment you would see I carry no brief for Mitchell. Posetti did state personal contact: ‘the Ed in Chief was increasingly telling me what to write.’ What part of ‘telling me’ don’t you understand? Wahlquist didn’t. Anyway, this echo chamber hurts my ears; I’m outta here.

  26. jakerman
    December 4th, 2010 at 16:45 | #26

    Jonathan Holmes sees it :

    Chris Mitchell’s threat to sue Posetti, and all that has happened since, has had one effect that’s been of considerable benefit to The Australian. It’s distracted attention from the central allegation made by Asa Wahlquist, which is this:

    “I think my basic problem was that I always wanted to approach (the climate change issue) as a science story and I was in a context where it was seen as a political story instead, and as a journalist, as a news journalist, you’ve got no power in those situations.”

  27. jakerman
    December 4th, 2010 at 16:50 | #27

    What part of ‘telling me’ don’t you understand?

    The part where you need to make up the phrase “personally”. As I said, no need for an editor to do it personally in order to “tell” someone how to act .

  28. jakerman
    December 4th, 2010 at 16:52 | #28

    Sir Dolly, since you dislike echo chambers (like the Murdoch press) you might like this critique .

  29. jakerman
    December 4th, 2010 at 17:17 | #29

    We are seeing a pattern of Oz defending their partisan activism. Remember this honest moment of transparent partisanship from the Oz editors. Then in like of JQ recognition that:

    [Mitchell] has received a denial of claims that were never made, such as that he personally called or emailed her

    Compare this with the similar in tactic used by the Oz when called out on their partisan approach.

    It’s a mark of laziness that Mitchell slays straw army’s time after time, while avoiding the real critique of his paper’s actions. It’s a mark of disproportionate power that he gets away with it.

  30. Alice
    December 4th, 2010 at 18:43 | #30

    @paul walter
    the day the ABC gets rid of Obrien…..sad day indeed. Sold out is not quite right. Permeated and polluted by the right is more the description. Not even the centre, but the fruitcakes. The ABC will be sold soon and presenters will be told by the likes of Mitchell what to say – mark my words.

    It wont help. The electorate is tiring of lies and JQ is spot on when he says the liberal party are doing themselves long term damage. (mind you at state level in a number of states that I can think of the Labor govts are doing a liberal job so much better …its all getting very tiresome. Today Kristina keneally says she wants to stay …but the tender offers have just arrived for electricity…oops folks gotta rush…).

    Its the ratings agencies that are dictating terms to our governments now. KK hails that sale merchant Roozendahl for keeping the triple A rating.

    So ratings agencies on behalf of banks run governments now do they? Lets face facts.

  31. Alice
    December 4th, 2010 at 18:57 | #31

    @PB
    Pn – absolute ripper of link. Mitchell should simply stop denying the fact that he has been peddling the denial industry with two glasses of sustagen in the morning and the facts of climate science journalism with only the weakest of weak cup of tea and now he wants to silence someone else who tells the truth as it is by suing a third party tweeter who got the run down from one of his direct staff..

    Liar liar pants on fire, stop obsess controlling your employees and for whom does Mitchells bell toll? His own personal political gurus aint exactly the news…even if the guru owns the newspaper.

    Go home Mitchell. Your pitch is weak.

  32. Jill Rush
    December 5th, 2010 at 06:43 | #32

    The threat of defamation is different to libel or slander. If what is said is true, it is a defence. Harm is also a factor. Who has done the harm to reputation in this case? Does the harm have any financial impact?

    Most people would have never heard of the speech or the tweet except for the claim of defamation by the person who is offended in this case. Jonathan Holmes was right on this point.

    The case is weak which is no doubt what the lawyers are saying. This is probably why the re-education proposal has been floated as it implicitly implies guilt. There is no good reason to accept unless Mitchell can point to stories by Walquist where he instructed her to make sure that the science was right. He doesn’t appear to have gone down this line at all.

  33. Jill Rush
    December 5th, 2010 at 07:04 | #33

    The Oz has its environment reporter defend the honour of the paper. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/climate-debate-no-place-for-hotheads/story-e6frg6zo-1225965406382

    What is clear however is that while climate change views have been aired that there is a lack of proportionality. It starts with an attack on Scorcher and that there should have been a defamation case over that book and ends with an attack on Guy Rundle of Crikey while defending those who advocate doing nothing about Climate Change.

    It must have been a hard piece to write.

  34. jakerman
    December 5th, 2010 at 07:47 | #34

    @Jill Rush , you make a good point.

    And you are correct that “while climate change views have been aired that there is a lack of proportionality”.

    I attempted to linkto link to this earlier:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/12/chris_mitchellgate_mitchells_d.php#comment-2975149

  35. jakerman
    December 5th, 2010 at 07:57 | #35

    My links also failed in this post , ill try again:

    We are seeing a pattern of Oz defending their partisan activism. Remember this honest moment of transparent partisanship from the Oz editors. Then in like of JQ recognition that:

    [Mitchell] has received a denial of claims that were never made, such as that he personally called or emailed her

    [

    Compare this with the similar in tactic used by the Oz when called out on their partisan approach.
    It’s a mark of laziness that Mitchell slays straw army’s time after time, while avoiding the real critique of his paper’s actions. It’s a mark of disproportionate power that he gets away with it.

  36. Donald Oats
    December 5th, 2010 at 08:03 | #36

    I’m just waiting for one of the panel on “Australian Agenda” (a Sky News Channel one hour “serious” discussion of Australian politics) to raise the issue of the editor in chief of the Australian intending to sue Julie Posetti for tweeting – oh, wait, that’s right; the panel are from the Australian, how’s that for cooperation between print media and Sky News Channel? Boy, isn’t the word “Australian” rather busy in meaning in the previous sentence?

    Just sayin’ :-)

    PS: everything that Jill Rush and jakerman have said.

  37. paul walter
    December 5th, 2010 at 08:33 | #37

    Re “hotheads”, could not find an attribution.
    The news paper apparently writes its own articles, by thought control?
    The article itself is the biggest crock of sh-te Ive ever read and that includes fifty years of reading Murdoch newspapers.
    Because of its capture by the right, public broadcasting now carries that sort of bilge, to cancel out the half that must be true, to provide “balance”.
    You know, I wonder how far off Mitchell is from some sort of legal action himself?
    The Murdoch snake writhes like a worm in its own toxicity, re JR linkat 33.

Comments are closed.