Tag Archives: Defamation

The question for Good Friday: What is truth?

3 Apr

 

orwell truth

Yesterday, human rights lawyer George Newhouse won his defamation case against News Corp blogger Andrew Bolt. A confidential settlement was reached, with News Corp paying Newhouse’s costs:

Justice McCallum found the five defamatory imputations pleaded by Mr Newhouse were capable of arising. These included that Mr Newhouse “has fraudulently represented to the public that people whom he represents are refugees when they are not”; that he “lied to the High Court”; that he is “motivated by deceit” and that he has “acted immorally”. 

In 2011, Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act with a blog in which he’d implied that light-skinned people who identified as Aboriginal did so for personal gain. 

In 2002, magistrate Jelena Popovic was awarded $246,000 damages for defamation after suing Bolt and the publishers of the Herald Sun over a 13 December 2000 column in which he claimed that she had “hugged two drug traffickers she let walk free.”

Obviously, Bolt is in the business of mischief-making, as is his employer. There is a certain satisfaction in witnessing this activity come back to bite them both, however, Bolt’s narrative genre, bereft as it is of truth or any pretence at interest in it, is a vehicle for the conservative ideology that is currently struggling for control of western democracies.

Bolt’s blogs largely consist of great swathes of unsubstantiated personal opinion, that if subjected to a moment’s elementary Socratic interrogation would disintegrate into dust. The only way to deal with the man is to haul him before appropriate courts, an option open to very few. The cost to News Corp is little in the scheme of things, and is no doubt outweighed by the talent the man has for rousing ugly public opinion that favours conservative prejudices.

In conservative politics and in the media that support the ideology, truth long ago exited stage left and won’t be coming back. Prime Minister Tony Abbott boasts of his own dodgy relationship with the truth, and the ABC’s “Promise Tracker” records the number of pre-election assurances by the coalition that have been broken since Abbott assumed power.

Does truth matter? It would seem we’re in an era of norm renegotiation: at one time in our social evolution a man’s [sic] word was all that was required, and any man who broke his word was ostracised and shamed for it. We have apparently devolved to a state in which the leader of our liberal democracy can quite cheerfully say whatever he likes at any particular moment, then blame his audience for being daft enough to believe him.

On Good Friday, the day on which Christians such as Prime Minister Abbott grieve the death of their Christ, it seems appropriate to recall Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who handed Jesus over for execution by literally and symbolically washing his hands of the whole ghastly affair and asking, rhetorically, Quid est verities? What is truth?

Prejudice, arrogance, entitlement and ideology have triumphed over truth in Australian political discourse. Truth is now regarded with the same jaundiced mocking eye as is compassion. It matters not if Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott spin narratives bereft of truth, populated with stereotypes, peppered with clichés. Truth is crucified. Ideology rules. OK?

 

 

 

 

 

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The arbiters of taste: who will control society?

14 Jan

security-vs-liberty

 

In his blog for The Monthly on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Mungo McCallum concludes his Readers’ Digest argument that laughter is the best medicine by observing that even those wielding automatic weapons can’t fire them if they’re doubled over with mirth.  “After all,” he writes, “even the most rabid fanatic would find it hard to aim a Kalashnikov while guffawing.”

McCallum’s piece is about the lines that are or should be drawn between satire, humour, and offence, but what he fails to address is who exactly is to determine those limits, and what criteria they are to employ in order to arrive at their judgement.

This is another aspect of the battle for societal control so relentlessly fought by groups such as Collective Shout and individuals such as Melinda Tankard Reist, with whom I have locked horns on more than one occasion. See the Category Defamation Threats on this blog if you want to know just how hard these people will go after you in an effort to shut you up and impose their views.

I know people who find Seinfeld cruel and unfunny. I know others who find The Simpsons offensive to their sacred notions of family. I’ve heard arguments that the HBO series Breaking Bad, in which a regular high school chemistry teacher morphs into a drug lord after learning he has terminal cancer, has led to an epidemic in the manufacturing of methamphetamines. I find McCallum’s line quoted above offensive in its casual dismissal of the profound seriousness of rabid fanaticism. I don’t find it satirical or humorous, and I suspect it could only have been written by someone who has little first-hand knowledge of any kind of terror.

The point is, something will always offend someone. There are those who are outraged because every cliff top in the country is not fenced off to protect us from falling over it and sustaining injury, or death. There are those who want to kill every shark in the ocean because now and then one of them eats someone. There are those who believe being hurt and offended is so great an injury laws can and should be passed to prevent their emotional distress.

There are those who take out their Kalashnikovs because they believe being insulted and offended are justifications for murder. There’s very little that can be done about someone with that particular mindset, and if all other provocations are denied them through censorship of potentially provocative commentary they will still kill, on the spurious grounds that an entire mode of existence is offensive to them and it’s their right to eradicate it.

The fight for the power to wield societal control is constant, and it takes a myriad of forms. In general, our liberal democracy is controlled by the values of the bourgeoisie who are, also in general, obsessed with issues of law and order, affronted by graffiti, entirely precious about their right not to be offended, insulted or otherwise emotionally ruffled, and consumed by notions of decency and what they determine to be appropriate. Look at our politicians if you don’t believe me.

There is no doubt that words can damage. Vilification of any kind causes hurt and damage and destruction. Rather than impose legislation that seeks to prevent and punish the utterance of damaging and destructive words, satirical commentary, unfair criticism, racial and religious abuse, I would prefer that we instead focus our attention and resources on education and remediation. I think this because largely legislation has no effect at all in everyday situations, and in many instances can make resentment against the other, whoever the other happens to be at any particular time, even worse.

In my opinion, legalisation that seeks to control who can say what, when and where is driven by bourgeois desires to exercise social control and create a perceived utopian culture in which proponents of bourgeois ideology feel most “comfortable.” While the bourgeoisie have not yet resorted to firearms with which to impose their vision of the world, they have instead demanded a level of surveillance and state control over language and how it may and may not be used that is astounding.

While I do not agree with Attorney-General George Brandis that everyone has the “right” (whatever “right” means in his context) to be a bigot, it seems to me that legislation attempting to prevent the expression of bigotry is doomed to fail, except in very rare high-profile situations.

The battle for societal control will not be won by silencing. It is a wrong-headed and prejudicial battle in the first place. We cannot, for example, silence the Murdoch press and even if Andrew Bolt came a cropper with his racist views what was gained in the larger sense by his stumble? He hasn’t shut up, he’s just as offensive, if not more so, and he gained an inordinate amount of support and sympathy. In general, his name is remembered as a consequence of those events, and not the names of those vilified and insulted, or the nature of the vilification and insult.

I know from my own experience of being threatened with legal action if I didn’t retract and shut up that it only made me more determined to express views I believed to be worthy of expression and that I had the right to express, because why shouldn’t I? My views were extremely offensive and insulting to some. So what? Theirs were equally offensive and insulting to me. Neither of us should have been silenced, and only one party (not me) had the financial wherewithal to threaten the other with silence or ruin.

What we need to do is think about is what can be done that will actually achieve fundamental change, instead of focusing on window dressing and  band aids that at best do nothing and at worst incite those who are silenced by legislation to even more devious expressions and behaviours.

McCallum is wrong, laughter is certainly not the best medicine when faced with a Kalashnikov, or being otherwise silenced by punitive measures employed by the state at the behest of the hegemonic bourgeoisie.

The best medicine is to resist and refuse efforts to silence, to be subversive, to transgress, to contest, to challenge, to protest, to be civilly disobedient, to refuse to be shut up by those who are “uncomfortable” with certain forms of expression. Your discomfort is not my problem, tell them. It’s yours. I’m sorry you feel it, but there are ways you can deal with it if you have the courage, and silencing me is not one of them.

I laughed my head off, said someone taken hostage by murderous ideologues never.

 

 

To those who would sue us

10 Apr

Blogger Dan Buzzard wrote about homeopath Francine Scrayan in a post titled Scammed to Death: How Francine Scrayan killed Penelope Dingle. Briefly, Dingle was seriously ill with bowel cancer and Scrayan “treated” her with alternative medicine. Dingle died a horrible, painful death. The full story and the Coroner’s damning report can be found at Buzzard’s website.

As well, there’s an excellent post here at Chrys Stevenson’s blog titled When the Despicable cry Defamation. For some balanced commentary on the need or otherwise for defamation laws, Metamagician aka Russell Blackford  has a piece here as well as this highly recommended commentary and link on his blog.

Buzzard has now received a Cease and Desist order from Francine Scrayan’s lawyers, demanding that he remove the offending posts, as well as publish a retraction and apology. Scrayan reserves her right to sue him for defamation.

Only a couple of weeks ago, concerned parent Daniel Jeffares questioned literature distributed in his child’s school by the Bravehearts child advocacy organisation. In an attempt to discover the qualifications and experience of the authors of this material, Jeffares approached Bravehearts’ founder Hetty Johnston several times, only to be informed that his correspondence had been referred to her lawyers.

Then there is my own ongoing situation with Melinda Tankard Reist. This brilliant analysis of my circumstances by Scepticlawyer titled Once we suffered from crimes now we suffer from laws is  a must-read if you’re interested in some in-depth commentary on defamation threats. As well, there’s a Defamation category on the blog where you’ll find most of what’s been written here since I received the threats.

I don’t know if the situation with Buzzard is similar to mine, however the threats against me by Tankard Reist are viable for twelve months after the date of issue. At any time between now and next January, I can be served with a writ. One learns to live with threats, however my question is, why should anyone be obliged to, simply for expressing an opinion?

As with Reist, Scrayan could have chosen from any number of commentaries if she wanted to launch a defamation action. Instead, they both chose “unknown” bloggers. As Stevenson points out, this is a rather self-defeating exercise as individual bloggers rarely have the protection of moneyed institutions. Neither do we have unlimited access to lawyers who will defend us without a cent coming from our own pockets. What Reist and Scrayan might have achieved is a retraction and apology, which they could then use to self-publicise. They might have achieved this without risking the court proceedings an institution with deep pockets, unlike bloggers, may choose before capitulating.

Apparently these people think so highly of themselves they believe they are entitled to bully, intimidate and ultimately silence the opinions of others in order to defend their “good names.”

Reist and Scrayan depend on the successful provocation of deep fear. It’s no joke being faced with a legal situation that would certainly end in bankruptcy for many bloggers. I wouldn’t blame anyone who made the apology and retraction rather than face that prospect, and the prospect of such a dire threat hanging over his or her head for twelve months. And this is what these people count on, that the threat in itself will be sufficient to get them what they want.

Never mind that one is an advocate for public morality and the protection of children, and the other is a “healer.” In spite of their noble professions, or perhaps because of them, these women seem to believe they are above questioning, above criticism and fully entitled to threaten another human being with the loss of everything in order to protect their “reputations.”

Hetty Johnston, who has thus far only threatened to bring in the lawyers when her methods were questioned, is also a child advocate.

I’m in agreement with Blackford that we do need some form of defamation law, however its current manifestation allows those who would silence rather than debate, power to threaten and intimidate anyone who disagrees with their point of view. This does go to the character of such people. Surely they are capable of robust debate and engagement with other points of view without resorting to legal threats? And if they are not, if their characters are such that they are unable to defend their positions, should that weakness be supported by our legal system? And should people so apparently lacking in the courage of their convictions be granted the power to silence those who question them?  Do we really want a society in which our laws give a voice to bullies, while silencing  those who challenge them?

To those who would sue us, first read The Streisand Effect

To those who would sue us: toughen up, princesses.

To those who would sue us:

writemywordsinmythoughts.wordpress.com

Helen Pringle’s hypocrisy

12 Mar

For the second time in  matter of days, Helen Pringle has published an article in which she claims I did not get my facts right and used “unprincipled reasoning”on which to base my January 10 post on Melinda Tankard Reist.

This is in spite of me commenting on the first publication, and correcting her  misinformation.

At this point, were I Tankard Reist, I would call in the lawyers to threaten Ms Pringle with defamation action unless she withdrew her claims, apologised, and paid me money. Pringle knows, however, that I don’t believe in such action as a means to resolving anything, and she feels quite safe to continue making false claims, in the full knowledge that they are false.

Neither does Pringle disclose that she is a contributing author to Tankard Reist’s latest book. In fact she explains nothing, her reference to me being as follows:

[Leslie] Cannold and others like Jennifer Wilson can see these considerations clearly in their own case, and in cases to which they are (rightly) sympathetic, such as that of the Bolt complainants. But they seem unable to take a stand based on principle in regard to those with whom they are not in sympathy. Unprincipled reasoning like this about freedom of speech is rife in what passes for public debate in Australia.

So in an article entirely about freedom of speech, Pringle neglects to advise her readers that I am being threatened with defamation by her colleague, Tankard Reist, in an attempt to silence my freedom of speech. Instead she describes me as “unprincipled”, offering no context at all for that accusation and no links to any context either so that her readers may evaluate the situation for themselves.

Had Pringle bothered to check her facts, she would have discovered that the sources on which I based my piece of Jan 10 2012 are fully referenced.

I can think of little less principled than continuing to publicly disseminate information after being made aware of its falsity. Pringle has further lowered the tone of public debate in this country .

Her article concludes:

So let’s have vibrant debate and disagreement about exercises of speech in our polity and our culture. And let’s have it in a context marked out by considerations about the inviolability of the person…

That is the inviolability of all persons, isn’t it? Including those with whom Pringle  is not in sympathy?

The second letter.Tankard Reist claims human rights abuse.

7 Feb

to Dr Jennifer Wilson

“You have in your published writings pointed to the fact that child abuse is a transgression of several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and have called for domestic law to give effect to a charter of rights. You are no doubt aware that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights powerfully affirms the right to honour and reputation. Article 12 provides that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks on his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

You should reflect upon the fact that you have seriously flouted your obligation to uphold the Universal Declaration. Would you care to be described publicly as “deceptive and duplicitous?”

Australian law protects Ms Tankard Reist against your breach of her rights, through the law of defamation. It is an imperfect protection, because it cannot require you to retract or apologise for your breach.

The only remedy the law provides is the right to obtain a judgment declaring that what you wrote was false, and an award of compensation. If you will not retract, the law will protect our client’s rights.

Without prejudice, we note that our client’s aim in this is not to bankrupt you. She would much rather you came to your senses and realised that a person who wishes to be taken seriously as a social commentator, who has pretensions as a scholar of human rights with a PhD should check their facts, and not indulge in flights of libellous fancy. If this matter can be resolved by negotiation resulting inter alia in a correction and apology, that would be far preferable to the expense of proceedings in the ACT Courts.”

Rick Lucas, Colquhoun Murphy.

Belconnen, Baptists, and the lawyer’s letter

26 Jan

This is the paragraph in the letter I received from Ric Lucas of Colquhoun Murphy, describing the two claims his client, Melinda Tankard Reist, intends to use as the basis of a defamation action against me:

For instance you assert that Melinda Tankard Reist is a member of a church that preaches the second coming off [sic] Christ, the end time, evangelism and that sex filthies the human female and renders her impure. You claim that “Tankard Reist is a Baptist.” This is simply false, yet you have erected an entire panoply of criticism upon it. And you finish your attack by alleging without the slightest evidence that our client is “deceptive and duplicitous about her religious beliefs.

This is false and unwarranted, and seriously defamatory.

It seems to me that the primary “seriously defamatory” alleged offense is describing his client as a Baptist. My contested post is here.

Whether or not Tankard Reist worshipped at Belconnen Baptist church regularly or occasionally remains unclear. However, she did participate in a forum at that church in 2009 alongside speaker Sheridan Voysey. The forum was called “The Quest for God” and was part of the church’s “Inspiring Christian” series:

29/9/09.

“Sheridan will speak at both 8.45am and 10.30am services as part of their ‘Inspiring Christians’ series, alongside Tim Costello, Melinda Tankard-Reist and others.”

This doesn’t prove MTR is/was Baptist, only that the Belconnen Baptist church thought highly enough of her to invite her to participate as an inspiring Christian. I assume that Tankard Reist at that time did not think as badly of Baptists as she apparently does now, given her intention to sue over being described as one of them. If she felt so badly about Baptists then, one would think she would be most unlikely to participate in that church’s events.

Tankard Reist was also associated with the Salt Shakers, a conservative Christian group founded by two Baptists in 1994. Again this does not mean MTR is a Baptist. However, it does indicate that she didn’t think badly of that religion, and she was willing to write for their journal. These writings are not available online, however I’m told they can be found in the State Public Library.

Tankard Reist also wrote for the Endeavour Forum. Here is their mission statement:

Endeavour Forum was set up to counter feminism, defend the unborn and the traditional family.  (“A feminist is an evolutionary anachronism, a Darwinian blind alley”.) 

Tankard Reist’s writings for Endeavour are not available online, but may also be found in the State Public Library

Baptists. 

There’s plenty of information about Baptist beliefs on the internet. While I wouldn’t claim Wikipedia as a faultless source, in the matter of describing the beliefs of a mainstream religion, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s not rocket science.

However, better than Wikipedia is the information from the Baptist Union of Australia. Baptists, as I claimed, do indeed believe in the doctrine of the virgin birth, the second coming of Christ, and the end times when the righteous will be taken to heaven, and the unrighteous will be punished and condemned.

I am willing to concede that many Baptists likely don’t interpret the virgin birth as do I and many, many others. However, disagreeing on the interpretation of a story was not, last time I looked, grounds for defamation.

In my opinion, someone who has strong links to a religious community over a long period of time, and then attempts to sue someone who writes about those connections, is likely being evasive on some level. And I wonder what those Baptists think about their religion being used as grounds for defamation?

Ms Tankard Reist also requires a prompt apology and retraction by a signed letter, in terms to be agreed with this firm, and which should also be published on your blog “No Place for Sheep.” She also requires payment of her legal costs.

She reserves her right to damages for defamation.

We note that this is a concerns notice pursuant to s126 of the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 and is not for publication.

OK.

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