University of Canberra journalism academic Julie Posetti has accused The Australian of bullying tactics by running an incorrect story yesterday complaining she failed to disclose the newspaper was threatening her with legal action in an ABC radio interview about Twitter.
The yarn, published yesterday on page 8 of the national broadsheet and headlined ‘Academic warns of Twitter danger’ [not online, despite author Caroline Overington’s claim on Twitter that she would post it by yesterday “afternoon”] quoted Posetti as pronouncing that misleading and defamatory Tweets could lead to “all sorts of trouble” if people “let fingers run ahead of their brain”.
In fact, it was ABC 702 Mornings host Deborah Cameron, not Posetti, that made the “trouble” comment and a quick check of the interview’s audio reveals that neither had made any reference to defamation. Overington’s explanation on Twitter was that the misquoting error was “my bad”.
The Australian and Posetti are currently embroiled in a legal stoush after Posetti tweeted former Oz reporter Asa Wahlquist’s comments at a journalism conference in November suggesting the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell had stood over his charge to ensure a more skeptical line on climate change. However, a writ is yet to be issued in the case and Posetti contends that her freedom of speech has been curbed while the News Limited legal threat lingers.
In February, Mitchell told the Sunday Canberra Times that he “…had not dropped the action.” Yesterday’s story implied that Posetti was guilty of double standards by apparently endorsing The Australian’s viewpoint.
Posetti hit back when contacted by Crikey this morning: “I feel that this ongoing pursuit of me by The Australian is having a chilling effect and limiting effect on my rights to academic and journalistic freedom which is extremely ironic in the week of the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom day.”
“I’m perplexed and amused the irony of this story. Having been asked to comment on my ethics in regard to my alleged failure to bring up Chris Mitchell’s renewed threats to sue in a interview regarding the social media aspects of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the real question might be the ethics of a national newspaper assigning a reporter to continue to pursue a story based on the personal agenda of her editor-and-chief.”
“The irony is that a story about my alleged inaccurate reporting was in fact itself inaccurate.”
This morning, The Australian issued a correction over the yarn [also not online], admitting that Cameron’s quotes were mistakenly attributed to Posetti. However, it failed to correct a smattering of other errors. Neither Posetti nor Cameron had ever mentioned defamation, the headline, which said Posetti had alerted listeners to a Twitter “danger” was unfounded and the apology itself misleadingly mashed together the incorrectly attributed quotes.
Sarah Joseph, Director of Monash University’s Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, told Crikey that the Australian’s campaign was like a “Sword of Damocles” hanging over Posetti’s head. “It’s a chilling thing, the continual allusion to the writ. I guess my question for Chris Mitchell would be why haven’t you issued a writ?”
“There was an enormous fracas when this story broke in November, Chris Mitchell was adamant that he was going to sue despite the arguable defence of fair reporting. I can’t think of the reason for the delay.”
Joseph said the issue wouldn’t get resolved until the 1-year deadline to issue a writ expires later in the year.
Chris Mitchell was overseas and did not respond to Crikey’s invitation to comment on the saga this morning.
*Full disclosure: Crikey is currently being threatened with legal action by Caroline Overington over a previous story.