Misha Ketchell writes:

The most convincing grounds on which the ABC board can defend its
decision to ditch Chris Masters’ biography of Alan Jones – after a
$100,000 investment and four years – is to argue that the risk of
successful litigation by Jones was so great that publishing the book
was an unacceptable commercial risk for the public broadcaster.

But is there any evidence that this was the case? Last night’s Media Watch coverage of the brouhaha includes this link
to the threatening “Not for Publication” legal letter sent to the ABC by Jones’s
lawyer Mark O’Brien. It argues, on the basis of notes obtained by the
Jones camp, that Masters has been “selective” in his research and
“biased” in its presentation. It goes on to claim that Masters relies
too heavily on interviews with a Mr X, who had a falling out with
Jones, and concludes:

We are instructed to put you on notice that our client will
not hesitate to commence defamation proceedings against all those
involved in the publication of such defamatory materials, including all
distributors.

This morning we asked a leading defamation lawyer how he’d
read the letter. He said that instead of ringing alarm bells, the letter, “in the
hands of an astute
or experienced publisher”, should indicate that “Jones
doesn’t know what he’s talking about at the moment in relation to what
the book contains.”

The letter was a “shot across the bow”, he said, and “couldn’t be taken
seriously because it doesn’t have any substance on what the proceeding
might be.”

“If their hand was strong they would have a draft and say that it says
X things and you’d spell out what the defamatory imputations are.
This reveals how weak their hand is. All they’re going on is notes.
It’s pure fantasy to say that you’re going to publish the notes
verbatim.”

According to our legal expert: “If you were prepared to publish prior to receiving this letter” then it would “not
change your view one bit in relation to publishing. All it would do is
indicate that Jones and his lawyers don’t have that much information.
If this was the straw that broke the camel’s back you’d seriously have
to question the resolve of the ABC and how anything could go to
publication.”

Peter Fray

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