Dec 3, 2010

Why editors rarely sue for defamation

Editors rarely sue for defamation in the modern era, for many good reasons, writes Mark Pearson, professor of journalism at Bond University.

Editors rarely sue for defamation in the modern era, for many good reasons.

Of course, all citizens have the right to defend their reputations in the courtroom.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

8 thoughts on “Why editors rarely sue for defamation

  1. Ern Malleys cat

    No better display of Chris Mitchell’s way of dealing with things than this, from Caroline Overington’s piece in today’s Oz –

    Commenting on the issue, former Media Watch host, lawyer Richard Ackland, said: “This thin-skinned reaction is a poor look for a journalist (Mitchell). He doesn’t need to use the courts to correct any alleged damage to his reputation. All the freedom of the press stuff that The Oz was spouting looks rather pathetic.”

    Mitchell responded: “I am amazed to see Richard finally stand up for a journalistic right. For decades he has supported every half-baked lawyerly argument against journalistic professional privilege. Now he supports the right of a Tweeter to tell blatant lies easily proven as such. Only at the (Sydney Morning) Herald, the spiritual home of all twits.”

    He sounds like a tantrumy toddler.

  2. James Guest

    Just for your entertainment….. When I was a Liberal member for a safe seat with a large number of branches (most important) and voters (somewhat important) I chose to communicate efficiently by writing a column in the awful “Toorak Times” published by a notorious bankrupt of low reputation. (It allowed me to say exactly what I wanted to, unedited, and my name and face appeared at the top, my name at the bottom). This distressed fellow members on both sides of politics who were friends of mine and liked to think well of me. Indeed in the National Party leadership as well when I made some casual remark, probably noting that the old jibe about the Country Party being the only true Marxist Party in Australia had just been given further supporting evidence. (Some in the Nats then would have thought Jack Pacholli was a dripping wet lefty).

    During one politically tense period of media hyperactivity I also threw in the hackneyed jibe about the Spencer Street Soviet and possibly said something less than worshipful about Michelle Grattan (couldn’t have been that the then young person was conscientiously but terminally boring already, could it?). One of The Age’s most esteemed and justifiably well regarded editors fired off a hot telegram to me threatening to sue me for libel. My immediate response was to send back a telegram asking his approval to publish the contents of his telegram. That led to a truly anguished and immediate reply saying that the original telegram had been “confidential” “repeat confidential”. No interference resulted to many years of good personal relations……

  3. Socratease

    Most would prefer to be remembered for their accomplishments as an editor than to become a textbook case as the editor who sued.

    Seems in Mitchell’s case there is nothing else to be remembered for.

  4. Malcolm Street

    “Most would prefer to be remembered for their accomplishments as an editor than to become a textbook case as the editor who sued.
    Seems in Mitchell’s case there is nothing else to be remembered for.”

    Oh there’s that little matter of “Manning Clark was a Soviet agent received the Order of Lenin” in the Courier Mail years ago.

    This BTW resulted in an upheld complaint to the Press Council. Whose ruling that the claim should be retracted Mitchell ignored. So that’s Mitchell’s record on defamation…


  5. freecountry

    One other reason not to sue is that the editor already has the big artillery in any battle for his reputation. The law is generally provided for those who don’t have control of a national newspaper with which to defend their reputations. Then again, perhaps reputation is not always the paramount motive for a law suit.

  6. Smithee

    I’m really enjoying The Oz versus the Internet campaign. I wonder how deep a hole News Ltd can dig for itself ? I think the very best result News Ltd can salvage from this is just looking totally foolish. At worst: globally acknowledged laughing stock of the web.

  7. AR

    Anyone recall the whistleblower case that LED to the Great ‘Right to Know’ Coalition? It was never more than tawdry self interest and now Mitchell is acting like the Rodent when his godhead was threatened.

  8. Peterh

    there was a journo who went after a blogger and tweeter recently, outed him in the “public interest” and was surprised at the backlash. now, I am certain that an apology from his newspaper would have been a bitter pill, but, as it was the Australian, they seemed to ignore the damage that was caused.

    if ever i have heard of a case for a suit, that was it.

    The journo, funnily enough, came from the Canberra times, so you would think they would know what happens when you expose your sources. you just won’t have any more “off the record” conversations, for fear of exposure in the “public interest”…

    Now we have the editor going after a lecturer in journalism at the Uni of Canberra. Sounds like the Australian has something against Canberra.

    Even after the audio evidence was presented, word for word to the tweets, no apology from the Australian do we see. Why? my personal opinion is that they can’t back down, the journo in the center of all this is being held up as a consistent contributor, and the editor will lose face if he has to say sorry, we were wrong.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details