On politicians suing journalists

David Salter writes: Re. “Crikey says: pollies muzzling the media for doing its job.” (yesterday). Why is it that so many journalists, including, apparently, the editors of this esteemed website, have such an illogical blind spot when it comes to politicians exercising their rights under the law of defamation? Politicians are citizens. They are as entitled as anyone else to seek redress when their reputations have been falsely maligned in the media. The persistent newsroom assumption — handed down through generations of scribes — that anyone who considers a defamation action must be a money-grubbing arsehole is nonsense. And it’s not as if journalists don’t sue for defamation these days. Just ask Ray Martin or Chris Kenny.

Truth is a very healthy defence in defamation. Media outlets settle so often because they know that the veracity of the damaging story at the centre of the legal action in which they are the defendants would not survive close examination in court. In other words, they got it wrong, they know they got it wrong, and those errors were damaging to an individual. It is arrant hypocrisy to rant about politicians “trashing the role of a free press in a parliamentary democracy” if they have the gumption to pursue a defamation action. Freedom of the press is not the freedom to cause damage to an individual’s reputation through careless error or malicious misrepresentation. Just ask Andrew Bolt or Kate McClymont.

As for your use of that shop-worn “muzzling the media” phrase in the editorial’s headline (a cliche so loved by the News Corp sub-editors), perhaps you’ve forgotten that a muzzle is a device used to prevent mad dogs from unprovoked biting.

Mungo MacCallum writes: There are no doubt many others, but an ex-politician and Queensland judge sued Matilda magazine over a story which suggested that he was corrupt in a judgement. More directly, Jim Killen sued me and Nation Review over a suggestion that he had an affair with his cabinet colleague Margaret Guilfoyle.

Christopher Hood writes: Neal Blewett’s defamation case wasn’t about a magazine saying he was gay. It was about claims by the doctors’ union head, and others, that he was imposing wrong AIDS policy because he was gay and refusing to take the right action that gays wouldn’t like.  The claims were false and defamatory. The defence to the defamation case tried to say that calling someone gay wasn’t defamatory.  The defence failed because that wasn’t the defamatory claim.

Several, including a leading journo, have sought since to muddy the waters because many years later and after he was widowed, Neal Blewett took a same-sex partner. So what?  He wasn’t defamed by being called gay.  He was defamed about his health policy and his reasons for it.

Public servants or Soviets?

Serge Galitsky writes: Re. “Reds under the bed: where are our socialist MPs?” (yesterday). Congratulations on the howler of the week in Alex Mitchell’s informative piece on the dearth of socialists in the NSW Parliament. Speaking of the late George Petersen’s abandonment of communism 1956, the article refers to Khrushchev’s speech to the 20th Congress of the “Community and Public Sector Union”. I doubt that dear Nikita came out to Oz for a chinwag with the public servants. If history is any guide he stayed back in Moscow to address the Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a quite different CPSU !

Crikey replies: We’re seeing reds everywhere! We’ve since corrected the error, which occurred during a harried (and apparently McCarthyesque) production process.