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Journalism

Dec 1, 2010

Rundle: Mitchell's own goal on the eco fascist line

If the editor of The Australian firms up defamation law as regards the metaphorical use of the "fascist" tag, then he will have handed innumerable people a precedent with which to target every News Ltd columnist and blogger who's muttered about "greenshirts", eco-Nazis or the like.

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By now there will have been plenty of comments on Jonathan Holmes’s Drum-beat up on Posetti-twittergate (there’s going to be so many twittergates in the future, I suggest we give them double-barrelled surnames, like kids from Eton or Princes Hill High), most of them inflamed by Holmes’s grumpy old journo reaction to the medium (“It’s been one of those issues the Twitterati love — because it’s all about them and their beloved medium” he says, later adding, “You kids! Get off my lawn! My prostate hurts! what the hell is a frappacino?!”).

He’s right to point out that Twitter is a form of publishing, not post-legal freeware pixiedust, but he then goes way over the top in his assessment of the material at hand, arguing that Posetti might have got in trouble when she tweeted that: ‘Wahlquist: “Chris Mitchell (Oz Ed) goes down the Eco-Fascist line” on #climatechange” ‘….

Says Holmes: “Calling anyone any kind of fascist is undeniably a defamatory thing to do … given the lack of context that’s an inescapable part of Twitter, Mitchell’s lawyers could argue view that there’s a clear imputation that he is some kind of fascist.”

Well, maybe. The reasonable person defence would surely say that anyone who thought Mitchell was a so-called “eco-fascist” couldn’t understand the tweet at all. The issue of “compressed communications” is a lot more complex than that, as libel case law has established — a four-word cartoon caption has latitude, for example, because we assume that the very medium creates a context (as per the famous, failed, attempt by Harry Seidler to sue The National Times and cartoonist Patrick Cook in the ’80s).

More importantly, if Mitchell’s going to express outrage at the “f” word, he’s going to have to talk some embarrassing recent examples in his own paper Hammer of the Greens. You have to go all the way back to last month, to find this:

On October 27, 2010 in an article entitled “Bob saves energy keeping us in the dark”, the lead para spills the beans:

“Bob Brown creates such a delightful, playful, Dalai Lama-style vibe in the flesh that it’s always a surprise when he flicks the switch to enviro-fascist.”

Even better for the case at hand is this one from 2009: “Rivers hijacked by “green fascists“:

“It is hypocritical to put wilderness ahead of Aborigines,” argues Sara Hudson, “The misanthropic attitude of conservationists was revealed last week… ‘

One of numerous examples.

This one, by Centre for Independent Studies flack Sara Hudson, is exactly the use of “green fascist” or “eco fascist” that Mitchell appears to disdain. The first is a flippantish report by Samantha Maiden on a Greens press conference, which suggest that the editor of The Oz doesn’t mind these terms being used without much substance to them.

For Possetti’s sake, I hope Mitchell doesn’t continue this bizarre kettle-pot lawsuit. Should he do so, bring the popcorn. Should he win, call your lawyer. For if the editor of The Australian firms up defamation law as regards the metaphorical use of the “fascist” tag, then he will have handed innumerable people a precedent with which to target every News Ltd columnist and blogger who’s muttered about “greenshirts”, eco-Nazis or the like.

‘Twould be a hell of an own goal.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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