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Australian Defamation Law

Australia wants Social Media Defamation Law Reform

Australian legal scholars and jurists have brought attention to the need of reform to current laws in light of a recent decision in which defamatory tweets were found to be more hurtful and detrimental than an article published.

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In Hockey v. Fairfax Media Publications, treasurer Joe Hockey won his defamation claim against Fairfax Media, being awarded $200,000 in damages when Federal Justice Richard White found that two tweets from The Age’s Twitter account (and Sydney Morning Herald advertising placards) were indeed defamatory.

The Tweets and placards used the headline “Treasurer for Sale”, in reference to a series of articles about Hockey and the operation of a fundraising party; yet Justice White found the articles to be of “considerable public interest” and not defamatory – the this was not the case with the Tweets and placards.

Successful in his claim, White awarded $120,000 damages for the Herald poster and $80,000 for the two tweets from The Age‘s Twitter account as he stated that tweeting or creating images with a defamatory premise was not reasonable, as those seeing the headline, construed it out of context, and “may read the tweet without going further:”

Mr Hockey’s legal team appeared to have pleaded “aspects of the one tweet” as separate publications; and so Justice White’s pay out of $80,000 damages was for two different parts of a Tweet from The Ages twitter account – the words of “Treasurer for Sale” appearing with a link to an article, and also a summary of the article in the same tweet.

Defamation law reform has occurred due to the need of transparency and public interest in the use of social media in the UK and USA; as the balancing act of freedom of speech is both to be preserved, utilised – but not in conflict with defamation standards and ethics.

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