Seven CEO Tim Worner 

The blogger who named two of the women alleged to have had affairs with Seven CEO Tim Worner has defied a court order requiring him to remove the names, ordered by Justice Stephen Campbell on December 21.

And he has no intention to, as he told Crikey this morning.

The allegations about the affairs were made in a workplace complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission by former Seven executive assistant Amber Harrison, who had an affair with Worner. Harrison cited Worner’s other alleged affairs as evidence of a culture of sexism at Channel Seven. The complaint was seen by many media outlets, including Crikey, but all chose not to name the women Harrison identified. Many in the media view the women as innocent collateral of the messy dispute. The Australian reported it received legal letters from some of the women when they contacted them to ask about it.

Seven started an internal inquiry into the affair, and there the matter lay. Until Shane Dowling — who, since 2011, has run a website focusing on what he describes as judicial corruption — put up a post in which he named two of the four women.

The response was immediate. Before 9.30 the next morning, Dowling had been sent an email for lawyers acting for the two women demanding the posts be removed within the hour. At an ex parte hearing later that day, the two women, referred to as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 in legal documents, secured a judgment for the names to be removed by 8pm that day.

Shane Dowling, who runs the Kangaroo Court of Australia website, told Crikey he believed the names of the two women were “part of the story” that the mainstream media had failed to tell. He claims that as the women were named in documents filed to the Australian Human Rights Commission, a “quasi-court”, journalists should have been able to publish the names in the documents.

The larger story, he adds, isn’t the affairs, but the possible misuse of shareholder funds. And anyway, he adds, celebrities get accused of having affairs all the time, often by outlets that are part of the Seven West media empire.

Dowling has a history of testing the limits of the legal system. He began blogging in 2011 and rose to prominence as one of a several writers operating outside the mainstream media who dug into the allegations of impropriety in Julia Gillard’s legal career. He is not a lawyer and has always represented himself in his disputes within the legal system, usually initiated by the businesses he writes about (to the seeming frustration of at least one judge — Dowling has a scattergun approach to filing defences, which left one judge to remark, “it is quite unclear how a number of the defences could apply”).

In 2014, he was found in contempt of court and ordered to pay $2000 when he breached a suppression order granted as part of litigation brought by Seven chairman Kerry Stokes. He told Crikey this morning he never paid the fine. Late last year, he was sued for defamation by Capilano Honey (of which Kerry Stokes is the largest shareholder) and again breached an injunction related to the case. A contempt charge was referred to the NSW Registrar — Dowling tells Crikey he has not heard about the matter since. The case is ongoing.

Dowling is highly critical of many judicial officers. He told Crikey he used to write to the media all the time about such issues, “but they’d do nothing with it”. “People complain about the media too much. You can become the media yourself, and that’s what I did.” Dowling has never worked in the mainstream media in an editorial role (he had a commercial role at Fairfax at one point). He says he’s “not a qualified journalist, but I call myself a journalist, because it’s people like me who are becoming journalists”.

Dowling believes the judiciary has been reluctant to pursue him harshly because of the negative publicity that would generate.

“They’re not prepared to put me in jail because that’s going a step further — that is a stick of dynamite that would go off, I believe. That is, putting a journalist in jail for utilising his right to freedom of speech.”

Bloggers like Dowling pose a particular problem for the legal system. As well as failing to comply with the court order to remove the names, he also published on his website a copy of his article that had been entered as confidential evidence, intended to be unavailable to those who are not parties to the court case. In a further December 23 hearing, which Dowling was invited to attend but did not, Judge Stephen Campbell extended the order until the conclusion of the case, and ordered an external contractor be given access to delete the paragraph naming Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 on the website and Dowling’s social media accounts. But, the judge noted, “it is obvious … that the defendant has no intention whatsoever of complying with the court’s orders. Indeed it is also obvious … that he is deliberately defying the orders of the court.” Earlier in the same judgment, Campbell noted that “[it] is far from clear that the defendant is in a position to pay damages to vindicate the reputations of the plaintiffs if they are successful at the trial”.

It wasn’t the first time Campbell had dealt with Dowling. In an earlier judgment to a case bought by Kerry Stokes, along with the mogul’s son and solicitor, the judge remarked that “Dowling seems to wear his disregard of the previous orders of this court as some kind of badge of courage”. Regardless, Campbell noted, that didn’t mean the court should shirk from making orders that “may be futile” if the orders themselves had merit.

The defamation case continues on February 3 — Dowling says he will file a defence before then.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey