Posetti v. The Oz

johnboy 2 December 2010 22

[First filed: Nov 30, 2010 @ 10:48]

The ABC has the skinny on a defamation row between The editor-in-chief of the Australian, Chris Mitchell, and The University of Canberra’s Twitter evangelist, Julie Posetti.

The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell has denied the allegations and threatened to sue Ms Posetti for defamation, saying that he believes new media should not be exempt from the “normal laws of the land”.

As one would expect of a media academic, the ABC is reporting that there is evidence to back Ms Posetti’s tweets as having the crucial defence of truth*.

It’s a shame Chris Mitchell (and many others who threaten defamation actions) doesn’t know that since 2006 just being rich and powerful with a grievance doesn’t work any more.

(* insofar as comments made were reported accurately.)

UPDATE: Julie Posetti has briefly blogged about this.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Crikey reports that a letter of demand has now been sent, meaning it’s on for reals:

It is understood that Mitchell is not pursuing damages but is demanding a fulsome apology over the comments by journalist Asa Wahlquist, who described writing about climate change at The Australian as “torture” and “debilitating”.

The letter also contains an offer from Mitchell for Posetti to visit the offices of The Australian and observe the editorial process of the paper, he has also offered for her to sit in on editorial meetings.

Mitchell has also offered to attend mediation with Posetti.


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22 Responses to Posetti v. The Oz
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Affirmative Action Man Affirmative Action Man 5:39 pm 02 Dec 10

Interesting. During the drought the OZ ran a lot of stories supporting measures to save the Murray from overuse of water. In the last 12 months it has done a 180 degree turn in favour of irrigators & bugger the environment.

troll-sniffer troll-sniffer 2:57 pm 02 Dec 10

p1 said :

clp said :

Also – where does this place Julian Assange – is he going to be sued by Prince Andrew, Sarkozy, Ahmadinejad because he published stuff about them?

I think he is more worried about the CIA framing him for rape.

He can thank his lucky stars that backache or nausea are not offences, at least the CIA will need a compliant stoogess to have any hope with a rape case

p1 p1 3:46 pm 01 Dec 10

clp said :

Also – where does this place Julian Assange – is he going to be sued by Prince Andrew, Sarkozy, Ahmadinejad because he published stuff about them?

I think he is more worried about the CIA framing him for rape.

clp clp 3:12 pm 01 Dec 10

Also – where does this place Julian Assange – is he going to be sued by Prince Andrew, Sarkozy, Ahmadinejad because he published stuff about them?

clp clp 3:09 pm 01 Dec 10

Yeah I think people are getting their knickers in a knot somewhat unnecessarily – mind you I haven’t followed the cases of sucessful litigation against the publisher of online forums – I mean this one has been going 10 years and was hardly first cab off the rank and the comments here can be rather incendiary at times. Not to mention the fact JB does put some editorial “slant” on many things.

Given the most famous (ie I can remember it and I don’t exactly follow these things closely) defamation case regarding the vagaries of personal opinion was against the food critic and it was unsucessful – even though the restaurant owners subsequently went out of business. I reckon there is plenty of room left for frank and fearless.

p1 p1 2:08 pm 01 Dec 10

I thought the laws (at least in the past) also took into account the way something was published (ie circulation of paper, which market it is in) and the perceived credibility of author and publication (ie weird guy in civic badmouth you in poems he is selling or respected editor in national newspaper).

If that is true (and I am by no means certain) then it would be interesting see how that applies to the modern context. How many people follow you on twitter?

el el 1:48 pm 01 Dec 10

clp said :

But if it was an un-moderated site surely a caveat which stated “the views expressed are not the views of the creators blah de blah” would have to prevent a site being sued?

Doubtful – I believe the site owners are held liable as the ‘publishers’ of every comment posted, whether they agree with the content or not.

It would be interesting to have a test case just to know where everyone stands.

Happy to be corrected, but I don’t think JB would be too keen on being the ‘test case’ to try this theory out.

clp clp 12:59 pm 01 Dec 10

But if it was an un-moderated site surely a caveat which stated “the views expressed are not the views of the creators blah de blah” would have to prevent a site being sued?

It would be interesting to have a test case just to know where everyone stands.

Defammation laws in this country seem to protect those who do not need protecting.

WillowJim WillowJim 10:41 am 01 Dec 10

A very interesting case, especially for enterprises such as the RiotACT. And a good example of why JB is right to moderate comments.

colourful sydney racing identity colourful sydney racing identity 10:41 am 01 Dec 10

pajs said :

colourful sydney racing identity said :

Having worked with Posetti (and with apologies to Gareth Evans) I can say that people take an instant dislike to her simply to save time.

And this is relevant to the story, how exactly? I’m not sure how whether or not Ms Posetti is likeable has any bearing at all on what Asa said, what was tweeted, and the Australian’s/Chris Mitchell’s behaviour. There is a bigger story here.

I was postulating as to why Chris Mitchell behaved the way he did.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 10:29 am 01 Dec 10

Yes, particularly frigging ridiculous given that everyone who’s ever had the misfortune to read The Australian knows that all the comments quoted were right on the money.

clp clp 9:35 am 01 Dec 10

Yes I was aware that legally it was a possibility to sue in these situations – I was more making a comment about the absurdity of it all.
What possible advantage would Chris Mitchell gain in suing her – other than drawing attention to the issue. So the tweet is retracted (well how is that possible) and she publishes an apology on her blog (big frigging deal) – what is she obliged to take out a full page ad in his paper grovelling fulsomely? Does he want money?
Its frigging ridiculous.

dvaey dvaey 5:24 am 01 Dec 10

clp said :

I don’t know how you can sue for someone quoting someone else.

It depends if the quote was attributed to the original speaker.

If The Australian says ‘Mr Smith is a lying thief’, then John may be able to sue them. If they say ‘Police/Family say Mr Smith is allegedly a lying thief’, you can get away with it.

Its all to do with how you word and attribute it. Also, generally quoting means to repeat the whole thing, at least so that the end of the sentence is in context with the start. If you pick and choose which words from someones sentence, you use to make your own sentence, then you should be held to account.

I do agree that journos shouldnt be able to hide behind technology to get away with what would otherwise be illegal in their job. If defamation is illegal in print, it should be illegal on twitter and for all the twits who use it.

jackal jackal 11:09 pm 30 Nov 10

clp said :

I don’t know how you can sue for someone quoting someone else.

A common misconception. The fact someone – anyone – makes an allegation is not a foolproof defence against defamation. Example: A journalist quotes one developer saying another developer is corrupt without putting that allegation to the allegedly dodgy developer and the story goes to print/air along the lines of “X developer is corrupt, according to Y developer” = clearcut defamation win to developer X, in the absence of any solid proof to back it up (being able to prove the truth of an allegation/assertion to the satisfaction of a court will save you).

Twitter raises interesting questions about right of reply. Should Posetti have put the allegation to Mitchell before tweeting? Arguably not, but rest assured if she had been doing a story for the ABC or writing for The Australian her editor would probably have told her to put that allegation to Mitchell before running it, even if it is just a denial.

Going back to the developer example, proving that developer Y made the allegation does not meet the “truth as a defence” test, because it is not that developer Y made the comment alone that is defamatory, it is that the imputation by the media outlet AND developer Y that developer X is corrupt that would be grounds for a lawsuit. Note that developer X could pursue the journalist, the publisher and developer Y for financial restitution in court if he so chose.

Could Mitchell then pursue Twitter for publishing a defamatory (and he would argue false) allegation? Another interesting question. Certainly comments left on online blogs/comments sections such as this one can be defamatory, no doubt why they are moderated. So why not Twitter, in theory?

caf caf 10:59 pm 30 Nov 10

…since 2006 just being rich and powerful with a grievance doesn’t work any more.

Indeed, one wonders why the rich and powerful allowed such a change to come to pass. Asleep at the wheel?

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 4:57 pm 30 Nov 10

I don’t care if she makes other journos cringe by offending the Australian.
Her task is not to protect anyone in power from embarrassment, if anything its to report the things that will embarrass them.
The best ‘news’ to report is simply those things that people in power want kept quiet.

(Does this mean her blog is worth reading again? I stopped reading after she stopped updating, I guess she had a kid?)

pajs pajs 4:15 pm 30 Nov 10

colourful sydney racing identity said :

Having worked with Posetti (and with apologies to Gareth Evans) I can say that people take an instant dislike to her simply to save time.

And this is relevant to the story, how exactly? I’m not sure how whether or not Ms Posetti is likeable has any bearing at all on what Asa said, what was tweeted, and the Australian’s/Chris Mitchell’s behaviour. There is a bigger story here.

colourful sydney racing identity colourful sydney racing identity 1:32 pm 30 Nov 10

Having worked with Posetti (and with apologies to Gareth Evans) I can say that people take an instant dislike to her simply to save time.

clp clp 1:18 pm 30 Nov 10

I don’t know how you can sue for someone quoting someone else.

What an over-bearing chap to come over so defensive and sending an email like that. Deomonstrates bullying behaviour by his actions.

boo boo boo boo 11:54 am 30 Nov 10

Been following the #twitdef conversation in Twitterdom and the facts come down to this. Wahlquist had a whinge about her employer at a conference, journalism academic Posetti tweeted the whiny quote, Chris Mitchell was outraged and sent the lawyers in for defamation. ABC comes out with audio this morning of Wahlquist speaking at the conference confirming the quotes and vindicating Possetti. If the thin skinned, crybaby editor hadn’t overreacted the whole 140 characters would have floated off to wherever old tweets go. I did like the Australian’s quote though “Twitter has become the dunny-door graffiti of the digital age”.

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