Home > Media > Canberra University stands up for academic freedom

Canberra University stands up for academic freedom

December 9th, 2010

Oz editor Chris Mitchell’s defamation action against academic Julie Posetti is so obviously baseless that his only hope can have been that Posetti would not have the resources to fight. Fortunately[1] Canberra University, where she works, has taken a stand in support of academic freedom, and is defending the action. The letter of reply to Mitchell’s lawyers, posted here, is good reading, including the observation

We note also that, while we appreciate that what is published in The Australian (of which your client serves as editor in chief) may not necessarily always reflect your client’s own personal views and is not determinative of the position, it is nevertheless somewhat telling that the “Media diary” article titled “The Posetti tapes” appearing in the online version of The Australian on 30 November 2010 suggested that the “Tweets are a fair summary of what Wahlquist said”.

The line of defence taken by the lawyers is the correct one of fair reporting of a matter of public interest, but I hope they also do discovery for a truth and public benefit defence – we might find out how it is that News Ltd journalists all know what line to take on so many issues.

fn1. One might suppose this to be a given. Sadly, plenty of corporate universities in Australist have done their best to stifle academics who annoy powerful interests, not to mention those who criticise their own administration.

Categories: Media Tags:
  1. December 9th, 2010 at 16:46 | #1

    Couple of points:

    1. Howard removed the “public benefit” limb of the defence, ironically for the benefit of the corporate media, so the defence of “truth” is enough even if the defamation is of no public benefit.

    2. There is no right to discovery until the action has been commenced. If Mitchell is just bluffing then there’ll be no ‘discovery’. What are the odds?

    PS: Well what do you know? Our good friend the Sun God gets his first wiki-mention!

    http://213.251.145.96/cable/2009/05/09RIYADH651.html

  2. December 9th, 2010 at 16:55 | #2

    The cable concludes:

    “…the SAG (Saudi Government) has clearly made a strategic decision to open the country to outside opinion, perspectives and culture to root out the vestiges of the extremist ideology and vision that threatened their rule. At the same time, they have refined their methods of control over editors and journalists in an effort to control the spread of these and other dissident ideas.”

    Fascinating, maybe that’s how they do it!

  3. Alice
    December 9th, 2010 at 17:19 | #3

    Oh and Mark Arbib gets his mention – in glowing terms probably as a friend of the Bush administration – now I understand the wiki leaks panning Rudd – political crap – right v left but Arbib is their friend. Ever wondered why Labor looks so much like the right these days? What a mole.

  4. gregh
    December 9th, 2010 at 19:05 | #4

    Perhaps this is just a clever recruitment strategy on the part of HR and Canberra U :)
    After all, supporting academic staff is a great way of positioning one’s difference as a university employer in Australia.

  5. Alice
    December 9th, 2010 at 19:46 | #5

    Corporate universities is what we now have.

    Shame Australia, shame.

    The greatest sell out of all.

  6. Alice
    December 9th, 2010 at 19:53 | #6

    @gregh
    Gregh …ypu mean like a marketing competitive advantage positioning?

    Ewwwww. We have lost the plot – uni shop fronts – who did this? Who ruined a really good university sector for decades and half centuries and more in this country – to cheapen it so?
    How debasing. What an insult to our intelligence. What morons run these institutions? What quasi pro business right wing plants?

    When its all gone we may remember but we may not and any acaemic free thinker, who once had any independence will be a distant memory, no longer having a job, and we will buy the line Murdoch pushes and we will rely on politically funded electoral campaigns where those with the deepest pockets always win….and we will be ruined as a nation (IMHO bring it on so we can prove what an atrocious experimental mistake it all was. It wont take long).

  7. Hal9000
    December 9th, 2010 at 20:45 | #7

    Canberra Uni ought to demand a public retraction from Mitchell, and demand reimbursement of all legal costs.

  8. Donald Oats
    December 9th, 2010 at 22:14 | #8

    It seems to me that Chris Mitchell’s claim of being defamed, ie that he believes Posetti has defamed him, is itself potentially defamatory with regards to Posetti’s reputation as an academic staff member. It goes to the heart of an academic’s employment that they behave with integrity regarding the academic aspects of the job in particular. Afterall, an academic who is succesfully smeared as being untruthful in their professional work can argue the toss on just how damaging that would be to their reputation, and by extension the employing university’s reputation.

    I’m not a lawyer…but I expect that something along these lines could establish grounds for a countersuit, or just plain suit if Mitchell doesn’t follow through with his quoted claim that he will, as stated in the opening sentence of the news story in Mitchell’s own newspaper:


    UPDATE The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, said he will sue journalism academic and prolific twitter user Julie Posetti for defamation.

    [The Australian, Business Section, "The Australian's Chris Mitchell to sue Julie Posetti for defamation", Geoff Eliot, 12:50pm, 2010-11-26]

    Game…Set…

  9. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 06:29 | #9

    “I’m not a lawyer…but” – when someone opens with this, they almost always go on to demonstrate the truth of the introduction. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which alleging defamation would itself be defamatory.
    A few other observations -
    1. Mitchell was foolish to threaten action fore defamation. An editor, who owns a big megaphone himself, should almost never do this. I am pretty sure Mitchell will realize this and drop the action.
    2. A Tweet protected by academic freedom? Especially one outside the course of the teacher’s employment? Stretching academic freedom too far risks losing it entirely.
    3. Similarly, there can be no justification for a university promising to spend what is really public money to indemnify an employee for legal costs for something that had nothing to do with her employment. Unless university staff are paid to tweet these days?
    4. I understand that Mitchell has offered Posetti an invitation to vist The Australian to see its editorial processes. I would have thought that someone whose job it is to teach journalism would leap at the chance to do this.

  10. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 06:30 | #10

    “I’m not a lawyer…but” – when someone opens with this, they almost always go on to demonstrate the truth of the introduction. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which alleging defamation would itself be defamatory.
    A few other observations -
    1. Mitchell was foolish to threaten action for defamation. An editor, who owns a big megaphone himself, should almost never do this. I am pretty sure Mitchell will realize this and drop the action.
    2. A Tweet protected by academic freedom? Especially one outside the course of the teacher’s employment? Stretching academic freedom too far risks losing it entirely.
    3. Similarly, there can be no justification for a university promising to spend what is really public money to indemnify an employee for legal costs for something that had nothing to do with her employment. Unless university staff are paid to tweet these days?
    4. I understand that Mitchell has offered Posetti an invitation to vist The Australian to see its editorial processes. I would have thought that someone whose job it is to teach journalism would leap at the chance to do this.

  11. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 06:36 | #11

    Sorry for the double post – the server seems to be playing up.

  12. December 10th, 2010 at 07:46 | #12

    ken n, according to the letter from her lawyers she did accept the invite to the newsroom if it was reciprocated by Mitchell attending her lectures and engaging with students. Ball’s in his court.

  13. Alphonse
    December 10th, 2010 at 09:11 | #13

    “…I hope they also do discovery for a truth and public benefit defence – we might find out how it is that News Ltd journalists all know what line to take on so many issues.”

    I hope so too (posted to that effect elsewhere when Mitchell first affected aggrievedness) but what’s to find out? With zero need of editorial direction, I could work for Murdoch and never put a foot ‘wrong’.

  14. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2010 at 10:31 | #14

    Ken N, I knew I could count on you to oppose freedom, and also to get your facts utterly wrong. In your comments here and at Catallaxy, you’ve consistently applied double standards in favor of your ideological allies.

    Coming to the facts, Posetti is a journalism academic, and was attending a journalism conference and reporting on it. And, as you are apparently unaware, her job description includes research as well as teaching. She was on the job when this happened. Your suggestion that because she used Twitter her speech falls outside the scope of academic freedom is as silly as the claim (not actually made by anybody, but pre-emptively refuted by Mitchell) that the law of defamation doesn’t apply to Twitter.

  15. paul walter
    December 10th, 2010 at 11:36 | #15

    Never mind, its not just Chris Mitchell , when it comes to censorship, authoritarianism and personal bias.
    Try gutless blogs site like Larvatus Prodeo, for that.

  16. Alice
    December 10th, 2010 at 11:36 | #16

    @ken n
    Oh so private media can sue in support of its employees but public institutions cant? Its quite clear where Ken n’s sympathies lie.

  17. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 13:04 | #17

    “I knew I could count on you to oppose freedom, and also to get your facts utterly wrong. In your comments here and at Catallaxy, you’ve consistently applied double standards in favor of your ideological allies.”

    JQ I did not know that I had any ideological allies. and if you do read Catallaxy regularly, you will see that there are debates there more robust than here. I do not visit here often, because there is so little debate.
    I still can’t see that a statement of less than 140 characters raises the issue of academic freedom. That trivializes the whole idea of academic freedom, as I learned it.
    And if you are to accuse commenters of getting facts utterly wrong, some eidence would be a good thing to include.

    Alice – sorry, I don’t understand. If Mitchell is foolish enough to sue Posetti, I am sure that News would expect him to pay his own legal costs. It would not be proper for the company to pay.
    And I have no sympathies at all in this matter – I only wish that people (Posetti, Mitchell, management of Canberra University and the inhabitants of this blog) would all start being sensible.

  18. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2010 at 13:49 | #18

    I still can’t see that a statement of less than 140 characters raises the issue of academic freedom.

    Umm, it’s the lawsuit, not the length of the statement, that raises the issue of academic freedom. As regards “some eidence”, reread the comment.

  19. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 14:18 | #19

    “reread the comment.” Four times I’ve done that and I still can’t see what facts I got “utterly wrong”.
    But there you go.
    I have also read most of the descriptions of academic freedom in Australia and elsewhere and still can’t see how it would apply in this case.
    Unless you are saying that any university teacher is entitled to have his or her legal costs covered by the university in any legal action brought.
    Not really analogous to a researcher being jailed to studying the wrong subject or being fired by the university for writing or saying something offensive to the government.
    As I said, those who stretch the (very valuable) idea of academic freedom too far will damage it.
    Posetti seems to have been careless (easy when you are trying to say something serious in 140 characters) and Mitchell has been foolish.
    And I still can’t see why Posetti would not leap at the opportunity to see how the paper works. A great opportunity – no non disclosure agreement, no restriction on what she could report. All her journalistic experience has been with ABC so to do her job she should learn as much as she can about newspapers.
    It’s like you being invited to spend a few days hanging around the RBA.

  20. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 14:25 | #20

    JQ Your server is struggling –
    Very slow and frequent 503 Errors.
    you might get someone to have a look at it.

  21. paul walter
    December 10th, 2010 at 14:46 | #21

    Am for Ken,s last comment, I wondered if it was my computer, but someone else is having trouble, too?

  22. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2010 at 15:26 | #22

    Sorry about server problems. Seem to have arisen since last WordPress “upgrade”. Will investigate.

    @Ken N – you misdescribed Posetti’s academic responsibilities (repeatedly implying that they consist solely of teaching), and drew the absurd conclusion that participating in, and reporting on, a conference in her field of expertise was not part of those responsiblities.

  23. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 15:45 | #23

    JQ – is that the fact I got “utterly wrong”? Good grief.
    Posetti’s prime job at Canberra University is as a lecturer in journalism.
    The conference from which she tweeted was about journalism education.
    She is doing a PhD which I guess amounts to research.
    I still say you are risking damage to academic freedom by stretching it too far.
    To suggest that a 140 character tweet is protected speech is , to use your term “absurd”.
    No one in this whole episode comes away with their reputation enhanced.
    Enough.

  24. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2010 at 16:01 | #24

    “To suggest that a 140 character tweet is protected speech ”

    I’ve heard some silly claims in my life, but the idea that you have to have a minimum word length to be protected from liability under defamation law would have to be about the silliest.

    “No one in this whole episode comes away with their reputation enhanced.”

    On the contrary, while Mitchell and his apologists have revealed themselves as stupid and vindictive, Canberra University’s reputation has been greatly enhanced by sticking up for freedom, and Posetti has conducted herself with dignity throughout.

  25. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 16:11 | #25

    And I quote
    ” you’ve consistently applied double standards in favor of your ideological allies.”

  26. rog
    December 10th, 2010 at 16:49 | #26

    ken,

    To use Catallaxy as a benchmark shows poor judgement, it really is the pits when it comes to considered (as opposed to “robust”) debate.

    One thing that JQ does ask for is civility and courtesy, both of which are either in short supply or extinct at Catallaxy.

  27. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 17:18 | #27

    Rog my point was that there is more diversity of opinion there than here.
    As I am sure you noticed, over recent weeks at Catallaxy there have been debates about

    same sex marriage
    the politics of climate change
    whether Abbott will make a good prime minister
    labour market deregulation

    On each of these subjects, there have been different views among posters and commenters.
    Yes, often expressed without courtesy but I’ll accept a bit of incivility for the sake of being able to hear and discuss different views.
    Many blogs are the views of one person supported by acolytes who drive out dissenters.
    That’s OK – the blog owner makes the rules – it’s not what I am interested in.
    If Catallaxy would become that, I’d lose interest there too.
    This blog sometimes shows promise, which is why I read it from time to time.
    I wish though, there was more diversity and acceptance of diversity.
    And with that, our Friday bottle of wine is open….

  28. Donald Oats
    December 10th, 2010 at 17:19 | #28

    Hmm – “I’m not a lawyer, but…”:
    1) Asa Wahlquist can speak.
    2) Posetti can write.
    3) I can read. (And think..
    4) Mitchell can be cited as having said:

    UPDATE The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, said he will sue journalism academic and prolific twitter user Julie Posetti for defamation.

    [2010-11-26, Geoff Elliott, Business Section, The Australian, "The Australian's Chris Mitchell to sue Julie Posetti for defamation "]
    5) A cabbage could connect the dots from here, ken n, so keep trying.

  29. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 17:27 | #29

    DO – sorry, I have no idea what you are saying.
    Are you still suggesting that Posetti has a legal action against Mitchell?
    Forget it.

    And by the way, Mitchell is most unlikely to succeed against Posetti. He has a slightly stronger case but would probably still fail.
    So you can bet he will drop it.

  30. paul walter
    December 10th, 2010 at 17:37 | #30

    #29, ” a slightly stronger case”.
    Mitchell?
    rofl.
    Except if law trumps justice, arrogant fascist pig he is.

  31. Alice
    December 10th, 2010 at 19:06 | #31

    @ken n
    says “And with that, our Friday bottle of wine is open”
    keep drinking – it might help your delusions especially of you think Catallyxy shows greater diversity of thought than here

    and quote from you “there have been debates (amongst other things)

    about whether Abbott would make a good prime minister”

    Tell me, Ken N, has any other potential prime ministerial candidate come within the discussion sphere at Catallyxy and if so who are they? Or was it just about Abbott? What was the balance of views on Abbotts prime ministerial abilities at Catallyxy? Pro or con?

  32. ken n
    December 10th, 2010 at 19:13 | #32

    “What was the balance of views on Abbotts prime ministerial abilities at Catallyxy? Pro or con?”

    About 50/50 I think Alice. I’m on the con side.
    Has this blog shown similar difference of opinion? About anything?

  33. December 10th, 2010 at 21:10 | #33

    ken n, at 6:30am you wrote:

    “4. I understand that Mitchell has offered Posetti an invitation to vist The Australian to see its editorial processes. I would have thought that someone whose job it is to teach journalism would leap at the chance to do this.”

    I pointed out that she had offered to take up the offer.

    Your internet problems may have caused you to miss that, because you ignored it and later posted:

    “And I still can’t see why Posetti would not leap at the opportunity to see how the paper works. A great opportunity – no non disclosure agreement, no restriction on what she could report. ”

    You seem to have a better inside knowledge of those matters (ie: essentially no conditions) than I, but she DID offer to take him up on it.

  34. rog
    December 10th, 2010 at 22:10 | #34

    ken

    we have no way of knowing who will pay Mitchell’s legal costs but we do know that Mitchell has been able to use the resources of The Australian to conduct his claim against Posetti. His publication of the Blake Dawson letter was an extraordinary move and can only be viewed as an act of desperation. Posetti has denied Mitchells claim and he must now either proceed or allow the claim to drop – either way he loses. The argument that Posetti’s rights are less than Mitchell’s is also a losing argument.

  35. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 04:34 | #35

    Megan – Posetti placed a condition on her acceptance of Mitchell’s invitation: that he attend one of her lectures. She is passing up an opportunity to learn more about how a paper works. Foolish, I think.

    rog I am sure Mitchell is looking for what he sees as an honourable compromise. Why sholud he not have published his lawyers’ letter?
    If Posetti is sensible she will compromise. Now, I think Mitchell will drop the case but I might be wrong and, like any litigant, Posetti should settle.
    As I said, no one is looking good in the whole business.

  36. December 11th, 2010 at 10:31 | #36

    Disingenuousness ken n.

    You know full well that Mitchell’s offer also had a condition. She had to apologise!

    He has passed up an opportunity to stop looking like a complete burke (sp?).

  37. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 10:37 | #37

    As I said, Megan, neither is looking good.
    I would have thought that an apology from Posetti (not a grovelling one) would go a long way towards solving it. Mitchell could acknowledge that he acted hastily.

  38. Jill Rush
    December 11th, 2010 at 11:29 | #38

    ken n #35
    Posetti has not passed up on an “opportunity” to visit the Australian, which has the implication that she has in fact been defamatory and needs re-education. It also puts her in the position of opening up more attacks on her by the Australian. In the publication world there are more opportunities to publish an account of the event for Chris Mitchell than for Posetti. To put the argument that she should accept an offer that was not made in good faith is naive at best.

    Donald Oats #28 – it is an interesting intellectual exercise to imagine the counter suit. I am not a lawyer either Of course in order to be proven it would rely on Chris Mitchell taking defamation action and for Posetti to be found innocent. That would provide a sound foundation for such an action by Posetti and be of very great intellectual interest to lawyers and bystanders.

    However as defamation is an extraordinarily complicated affair I imagine that both parties are not looking to incur enormous legal bills for an uncertain and potentially costly outcome as the most likely result is that the lawyers would be the big winners.

  39. rog
    December 11th, 2010 at 19:40 | #39

    Ironic how so called libertarians are always demanding apologies for alleged hurts whilst also demanding that their right to hurt be not compromised.

  40. Chris W
    December 11th, 2010 at 19:47 | #40

    I believe it is ‘berk’ Megan. No reason other than I’ve seen it spelt like that a few times :-)

    Cheers
    Chris W

  41. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 20:02 | #41

    “ronic how so called libertarians are always demanding apologies for alleged hurts whilst also demanding that their right to hurt be not compromised.”

    Not demanding rog, just thinking that if everyone behaved sensibly a lot of trouble and wasted legal fees can be avoided.

  42. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 20:02 | #42

    “ronic how so called libertarians are always demanding apologies for alleged hurts whilst also demanding that their right to hurt be not compromised.”

    Not demanding rog, just thinking that if everyone behaved sensibly a lot of trouble and wasted legal fees can be avoided.

  43. December 11th, 2010 at 21:04 | #43

    Possetti behaved sensibly.

    Mitchell conducted himself like a total berk throughout. (Thanks CW).

  44. rog
    December 12th, 2010 at 15:50 | #44

    I think that the records show that everyone has acted sensibly ken, except for Mitchell (who should apologise)

  45. Alphonse
    December 12th, 2010 at 16:58 | #45

    Nobody in their right mind could possibly imagine that the Australian hasn’t exhibited obvious and characteristic biases under Mitchell. Posetti and Wahlquist have added little to widespread longstanding incontrovertable observation.

    Why is Mitchell suddenly offended this time? What’s different?

  46. Alice
    December 12th, 2010 at 17:59 | #46

    @Alphonse
    Because a blogger / tweeter commented and perviously no one had a right to comment unless the Oz published your letter? He is offended his monopoly over mind control is shrinking (so are the papers – or should I say infotainment theatrical pages) and as it does his irrelevance rises. Soon he will be structurally unemployed – the sooner the better.

  47. gregh
    December 12th, 2010 at 19:04 | #47

    @Alice
    Alice, I believe that ‘perviously’ is a potential word of English whose potential has now been actualised :)

  48. Alice
    December 12th, 2010 at 20:03 | #48

    @gregh
    LOL. Perversely, the potential meaning seems to fit Mitchell and the rest of those berks at the Oz.

  49. jquiggin
    December 13th, 2010 at 08:21 | #49

    Chris W :
    I believe it is ‘berk’ Megan. No reason other than I’ve seen it spelt like that a few times
    Cheers
    Chris W

    “Berk” is English rhyming slang for “Berkshire Hunt”. The Australian equivalent is “Dropkick”. Usable in relatively polite company, including this blog, but some might wish to avoid it once they have the etymology.

  50. Alphonse
    December 13th, 2010 at 10:59 | #50

    Love it! But why ain’t it pronounced “bark”?

  51. jquiggin
    December 13th, 2010 at 11:45 | #51

    After giving the derivation, this source notes:

    Normally Berkshire and Berkeley would be pronounced Barkshire and Barkeley. This expression is generally accepted as inoffensive despite its source. Also “burk”.

  52. December 13th, 2010 at 11:49 | #52

    If the rhyming slang fits…

  53. paul walter
    December 13th, 2010 at 13:14 | #53

    In the light of# 1, must widen my search for nineteenth century history to include Edmund Berk of Burkshire and Bark and Wills, also Bishop Barkly and metaphysics/

  54. Hal9000
    December 13th, 2010 at 14:24 | #54

    Our esteemed host censored a similarly obscure, and similar, reference of mine not long ago. Perhaps this free speech thing is taking off… I can imagine a far distant time where doubles ententres at the ‘Are you being served?’ level can be exchanged among consenting adults in the moderated blogosphere. Dreamin’, I know.

  55. Chris W
    December 13th, 2010 at 21:26 | #55

    Oh. My. Good. Lord. How am I going to break the news to my aged (and straight-laced) Mum that one of her favourite epithets is a bit more … er … robust … that she ever imagined ?!

    Thanks Prof Q … that site’s gone straight to ‘Bookmarks’ :-)

  56. Alice
    December 13th, 2010 at 21:36 | #56

    @jquiggin
    Oh – Berkshire Hunt LOL – I didnt know that!

  57. jquiggin
    December 14th, 2010 at 10:47 | #57

    @Hal9000
    Sorry for the inconsistency – can’t recall your exact words. As Chris W above suggests, “berk” seems to have entirely escaped its origins.

    Anyway, I promise that your next double entendre will be allowed through.

Comments are closed.