After a 15-month legal battle we settled on Wednesday March 6 with 2UE Breakfast presenter Steve Price for $50,000 but now face a legal battle with Labor Senator Nick Bolkus and offer a fabulous Crikey life membership to help the cause.

We read out two sincere apologies in open court as part of the settlement and don’t recant from them for a moment. However, Crikey does feel strongly about Australia’s difficult defamation laws and was interested to read this editorial in The Australia on March 12.

Crikey, defamation laws are bad news

The Australian, 12 MAR 2002, Page 10

EVERYONE in the media should welcome diversity of opinion and vigorous debate on public issues, including their own performance. Scrutiny by whistleblowers, academics and the public can only improve quality, and as such audiences or readership.

But just as the news changes daily, so must opinions about those who provide it. It follows that the reputations of media types are even more fluid than those elsewhere. In the free market of ideas, your “trusted TV host” can become your “opinionated ratbag” overnight. It’s absurd however, that some media types use defamation laws in response to public scrutiny or ego-deflating debate about them.

These laws treat reputation as an unquestionable right. They let the state stop the exchange of ideas. And they feed bloated lawyers. Yet types such as talkback host Steve Price keep using them.

Price sued publisher Stephen Mayne for posting, without reading it, someone else’s claim that Price entered a car-for-comment deal. Price had not. It was like Mayne had underlined graffiti on a suburban wall, allowed 340 passers-by to see it for 27 hours then rubbed the underlines out an hour after Price’s lawyers told him to. Mayne issued an apology of sorts, but neither Price nor the legal system would accept that.

Granted, Mayne was slipshod and his subsequent antics silly. But Price, as all media types do, had a perfect platform for his right of reply. He chose not to exercise it — at least not to the satisfaction of his ego or his lawyers.

This was rich, given he once offered a One Nation supporter whom he defamed a right of reply. The man sued for defamation instead and gained $40,000. Having been burnt himself, Price knew how fickle defamation law was. Yet he pushed on against Mayne, claiming damages although his income-earning capacity appeared intact, judging by his latest contract with 2UE.

The case settled only when Mayne feared bankruptcy and Price realised it was hurting him more than the original web article did. Mayne will pay $50,000 of Price’s costs, post an apology for seven days and apologise in court. But no public policy or social equity goal was furthered.

So who won? Price’s lawyers. And who lost? Taxpayers who fund the courts, anyone who values free speech, and Price himself. He gets less than half his legal costs back. And he knows many more than 340 people now know about the untrue car-for-comment allegations.

Richard Carleton of 60 Minutes also knows that far more people than saw Media Watch now know, thanks to his legal claim, that he admits to having contributed to a technical lie. They have also seen 60 Minutes scrutinised in court.

The media are agents of free speech. Of all people, media types should fight speech-inhibiting defamation laws, not use them to repair damaged egos or protect commercial interests. And of all media people, radio shock jocks should learn to take it as well as they dish it out.


Crikey’s financial position

The settlement with Price wiped out most of Crikey’s assets and forced the sale of our family home but we’ve been boosted by the strong level of support over the past month.

We launched a $500 life membership which has so far attracted 23 generous supporters to whom we’re extremely grateful. These people receive about one email a week updating them on Crikey’s financial and legal battles.

The package is actually very attractive as the cost of an ordinary Crikey subscription has risen from $55 to $66 whilst renewals have gone up from $44 to $55.

So what does a life member get?

1. Life membership to Crikey for yourself.

2. Two complimentary 12-month subscriptions for friends

3. An email ad of your choice that goes to 2800 subscribers and 1400 freeloaders which is worth $150.

4. An annual subscription/membership which we’ll organise to Private Eye or The Australian Shareholder’s Association or RRR (Australia’s biggest and best community radio station in Melbourne).

5. A free banner ad on Crikey for a month.

This is effectively valuing a life membership at about $140 but what the heck, we don’t want anyone to suggest we oversell or overprice Crikey. If you’re interested drop us an email with your phone number and Paula or I will give you a call.

Subscribe now to help pay Pricey

Alternatively, you can help Crikey by just becoming a plain vanilla subscriber by clicking here to sign up for $66 to get 5 sealed sections emailed a week and a great Crikey tee-shirt. If you’re already a subscriber why not gift one to a friend.

If you don’t fancy subscribing or renewing online you can do it in one of the following ways:

SEND a fax to Crikey’s old man on (03) 9846 1472 authorising a renewal at $55 or new sub at $66 by including the name on the credit card, card number and expiry date. Feel free to throw a donation in on top.

MAKE an internet transfer into the Crikey Media account with the Commonwealth Bank: (BSB 063494, account number 1015 1030).

SEND a cheque made out to Crikey Media to PO Box 2095, Templestowe Heights 3107.

EMAIL me at [email protected] with a telephone number and Paula or I will ring you back to collect your credit card details.

We’ve received dozens of smaller donations over the past month and are happy to publish the names on Crikey’s Honour Board which appears on the site from time to time.

Subscriber Mary Cahill recently sent a cheque for $250 which she asked be used to establish the “Curse of Crikey” fund which is similar to what Private Eye does in the UK. Many thanks to Mary for kicking this off.

Legal action with Nick Bolkus

Crikey needs to raise funds to hire lawyers and fight a defamation action being brought by South Australian Labor Senator Nick Bolkus. We still haven’t even paid the $5000 it cost to get the 7-foot Crikey foam suit which is pictured below being served with a writ by Senator Bolkus’s process server outside the now-sold Crikey bunker in East Melbourne:

Legal action is costly and can potentially blow you out of the water so Crikey needs to get bigger and stronger to withstand them. Any support you’re prepared to offer would be greatly appreciated.

Do ya best

Stephen Mayne

Crikey Publisher

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey