Public interest journalism wins in defamation reforms
MEAA welcomes the proposed reforms to the uniform defamation regime announced by the Council of Attorneys-General yesterday, saying they represent important progress to bring the laws into the 21st century.
MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said: “MEAA, along with the Australia’s Right to Know media industry group, has been pushing for an overhaul of Australia’s defamation laws for many years. These changes take into account the rise of digital publishing and social media which the 2005 defamation regime did not foresee.
“Importantly, these amendments introduce a public interest defence based on the British model. This recognises that powerful plaintiffs have used Australia’s defamation laws to muzzle public interest journalism and to threaten journalists in order to avoid legitimate scrutiny.
“Plaintiffs have used defamation trials to tie up journalists and media companies in expensive litigation. Litigants, including Ben Roberts-Smith and Gina Rinehart, have even used defamation actions to try to compel journalists to reveal their confidential sources. Hopefully this overhaul of the law will stop this abuse of the system.
“The reforms will also help reduce the number of frivolous cases, provide clarity about the cap on damages, introduce a serious harm threshold and, importantly, provide a single publication rule to end multiple complaints,” he said.
“We also welcome the proposed second stage of reform that acknowledges the need for specific clarity around digital publishing,” he said.
“We will continue to push for reform that supports the public’s right to know. This includes enshrining source protection in defamation law, preventing plaintiffs using defamation law to out confidential sources.
“We also hope that the proposed changes will end libel tourism. Non-residents must be able to prove a real connection to the jurisdiction where they are seeking to bring any claim.
“We are also seeking the removal of criminal defamation from the regime and presumption in favour of trial by jury in any civil defamation cases,” Strom said.