Meltdown continues at the Oz: good faith reporting no defence

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.

37 thoughts on “Meltdown continues at the Oz: good faith reporting no defence

  1. 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.”

  2. 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 .

  3. 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.

  4. @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.

  5. @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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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