Defamation: Who Needs Protection? - 4th September 2003

Defamation: Who Needs Protection?

That was the question raised at the latest "Media Central" presented by the Macquarie University Media Department today.

The open forum was a rather jovial affair, with a serious heading.

Media Central was hosted at The Gaelic Club, and came complete with flashy bar and an Irish bar keeper.

It doesn't get better than that!

The all important speakers included Roy Baker, researcher for the Communications Law Center and Stephen Mayne, founder and editor of Crikey Media.

Oh, and then there were the open, uncensored questions (yes, really), from the audience, which included questions as diverse as copyright infringements on a certain brand of chewing gum (long story), to the potential of a new law being passed to more adequately protect internet publishers and broadcasters.

Not that Crikey Media necessarily needs it. From what Mr Mayne said, just about every time he gets sued, he ends up making money and subscriptions go up around 30%! It's actually been 101 days since Mayne received his last writ, and Mediaman, and we expect others, purchased subscription packages from $50 to $100 on the night.

As expected, Mayne, a charismatic, 6ft character, "carried" the presentation, in an intelligent, witty manner, while Baker, an affable ex "Pom", backed up the banter with stats and legal notes. Dr John Potts, Head of the Uni Department of Media moderated the event and kept decorum.

A highlight of the evening was Baker citing some corrections from newspapers, featuring misleading and sometimes incorrect photos that appeared in prominent Australian newspapers.

Attendees included Channel 7 legal "hotshot", Fiona Robertson, Mediaman, media luminaries and a host of politicians including the Manly independent, whose name remains a mystery to us. Many appeared to want to keep their identities secret, as questions from the floor didn't include the usual, "John Smith from Channel X".

Perhaps Media Central and Crikey Media have gone mainstream? It was even mentioned today in the media section of News Limited's, The Australian.

The audience learned that a number of well known political and media types have worked the system, apparently to their advantage. The usual suspects names came up - Jones, Price, Kennet, Keating.

On the other hand, we learnt of some folks who never sue including John "The Man of Steel" Howard.

By the conclusion of the evening all had enjoyed an informative, light hearted, but illuminating discussion it was unanimous that the defamation laws in Australia are geared towards corporations, rather than the "little guy".

Next time you think of suing for defamation, think again, unless you have wads of money to throw at the case.

When the forum concluded, the audience and presenters mingled, and Crikey's Mayne and McMurray were doing some serious hunting for scuttlebug, no doubt to include in a future scoop. There appeared to be enough gossip to keep Mrs Mayne, who just happens to be a barrister, very busy indeed.

Mediaman trusts that no one has been defamed in this account of the evening. It wouldn't be worth it.

The verdict - this media forum was a most educational and entertaining affair, and we couldn't think of any better way to spend a Thursday night.

Listen to some highlights of the forum

Part a: Introduction

Part b: includes chewing gum tale and internet broadcasting

Part c: more from the evening (some barely audible, which may actually be a blessing in disguise : )



Macquarie University Media Department

Communications Law Centre

Crikey Media

The Australian: Media

The Gaelic Club


Related Interviews:

Derek Wilding, Communications Law Centre

Lee Tien, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Donald Robertson, Australian Broadcasting Authority