ABC
Books has been a courageous publisher of biographies and contentions
content in recent years. All involved intensive fact checking, legal
vetting and commercial risk.

Books include Abo – the life of violent criminal Graham “Abo” Henry, In Your Face about Billy “The Texan” Longley, Snowtown about the South Australian serial killings, Watching the Detectives by policewoman Debbie Locke, an expose of police corruption in NSW and Filthy Rat by Victorian under cover police officer Simon Illingworth, And Then the Darkness by Sue Williams about the Falconio case in the Northern Territory.

ABC Books has made a substantial contribution to Australian journalism,
taking on subjects other publishers may avoid because of the defamation
difficulties.

In
light of this publication record, and the recently gazetted national
uniform defamation laws (in which truth alone is a defence), the ABC’s
decision to abandon publication of Jonestown on the grounds of
“unrecoverable post-publication legal expenses” is not credible. It is
widely acknowledged that the new national defamation laws are
favourable to all publishers – newspapers, books and broadcast.

The
ABC Board should publicly release the legal advice Mr Green says
contains an assessment of the “unrecoverable post-publication legal
expenses” at several hundred thousand dollars.

Whether or not
the ABC should be involved in commercial enterprises at all is a debate
for another day. But the issues arising from this incident highlight
the need for the ABC to remain non-commercial and Charter focussed.
This incident demonstrates what staff have been saying for many years
about the ABC’s drift to commercialism: When it comes to public
broadcasting, commercial means compromise.

Murray Green’s
assertion that ABC Enterprises output is evaluated quite differently to
broadcast and online content raises serious questions about the
integrity of the ABC logo when it is used to market enterprises
products.

Peter Fray

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