The full resources of The Australian have been mustered to defend Chris Mitchell from a tweet. Caroline Overington (who used to be a serious journalist before becoming an apologist for her boss) writes:
Posetti sat in on a conference where serious allegations were made about Mitchell. Posetti published those allegations without checking to see if they were true or asking Mitchell for a response.
So from now on, before you tweet, get a response and include that in your 140 characters. Also, Overington makes a serious allegation about Posetti: that she broke the rules of journalism. Shouldn’t she have asked Posetti for a response?
Also in The Australian, Sally Jackson spins a story of how Posetti’s defenders are saying that defaamtion law doesn’t apply to Twitter:
“I am not one who believes new media should be exempt from the normal laws of the land,” Mitchell said. “Asa may or may not have said what the tweeter alleges. She denies to me that she did.
“But either way, the allegations are a lie and Asa has admitted as much,” he said. “There is no protection from the law in repeating accurately allegations falsely made.” …
“It’s very worrying as a parent of university students and a journalist of 37 years that a journalism lecturer and academic does not understand the laws of defamation,” Mitchell said.
That’s a serious, possibly defamatory allegation, I wonder if Sally Jackson checked to see if it was true and/or asked Posetti for a response?
Monash University Law Professor Sarah Joseph comments:
Mitchellâ€™s assertions regarding the law are true … sort of. One can perpetrate the tort of defamation by republishing, accurately, someone elseâ€™s defamatory statement, even if that statement was made in public. But there are defences, including a whole area of complex law under the banner of â€œqualified privilegeâ€. I am not a defamation law expert, but a review of the â€œdefamationâ€ entry in Halsburyâ€™s Laws of Australia indicates to me that Posetti has a good chance of raising a successful defence. In coming to this conclusion, I am assuming that there was no malice in her tweets: this blog proceeds on that basis. …
But the chilling effect of the threat of defamation action here seems disproportionate and potentially wide-ranging. The editor of a major newspaper is threatening legal action against a lecturer for tweeting tweets which I believe are likely to fall within applicable defences. An alternative response, perhaps, was for his newspaper to publish his rejection of the perceived contentions of her tweets. It will surprise me if this matter escalates to the point of a court case. If so, Mitchell risks the setting of a precedent which, if it goes his way, could boomerang badly on his newspaper.
On her blog Posetti writes:
All I am personally permitted to say on the issue at this stage is the following: “My University has not received any communication from Mr Mitchell and I have been asked not to comment further on the detail of what transpired until we know what allegations are being made against me and the University and have had an opportunity to take legal advice.â€
Now I don’t think that Mitchell had to have a conversation with Overington or Jackson to tell them to slant their stories in his favour. Andew Dodd’s story describes how Mitchell does it:
Wahlquist, the long-time science and rural affairs writer for The Australian, accused Mitchell of controlling coverage of climate change because he believes those who subscribe to the â€œeco-fascist lineâ€ that humans have induced climate change are â€œaiming to destroy everything he loves and valuesâ€. …
Wahlquist says she self-censored stories on the human causes of climate change fearing they would not be run. She described this as â€œprofessionally compromisingâ€ and â€œunbearableâ€. …
â€œAs a news writer you have no power with the way it is reported. Someone rewrites your copy. This happens more than you know.â€
Mitchell has not disputed any of this.
There, of course, a lively discussion on this affair on Twitter, under #twitdef.