Australia: The Federal Labor and media chiefs of Australia are urging the country to refurbish its defamation laws to include support for public interest journalism. Times are changing for online publishing and the current laws are outdated and do not provide proper guidance and protection with regards to defamation.
Judge Judith Gibson from the New South Wales district court says there has been an abuse of process that needs “urgent consideration” when it comes to defamation cases. Out of the 91 judgements she examined between June to August of this year, 11 of the defamation cases were abruptly dismissed as having no merit.
The booming social media platforms have transformed the defamation playing field. There are numerous small cases containing self-represented petitioners fighting over insulting remarks posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or on blogs. If these platforms are the “publishers” of said defamation, there is still not a clear course of action regarding these defamation accusations. The media has definitely changed while the laws have stayed stagnant.
Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood argued that “Media outlets are more constrained in terms of reporting than they should be for an open market and open democracy, there is absolutely no doubt about that”.
The last update on Australia’s defamation laws was in 2006 while other countries such as Britain overhauled its laws in 2013, a response to the increase of online publications. The country introduced a new “serious harm” test to screen lower level claims before proceeding to a trial.
This reformation has helped Britain in reducing the number of cases most of which were ordinary people suing others for insults conducted on social media platforms like Facebook. A “single publication rule” was also established which gives a defamation case a one-year limit to be acted on. There is no such rule in Australia and a defamation case over an online publication restarts every time the article is accessed online.
“It’s clear we are dealing with laws that were conceived in the pre-internet age and which are struggling to keep up,” said Bridget Fair, chief executive of Free TV Australia.
Defamation laws in Singapore
Singapore’s Defamation Act, which was revised in 2014, is much more rigid; although it has done more good than harm for the country since it was established. The law has been helpful in urging citizens, politicians and businesses to proceed with their dealings in an upright and honest manner. Strict enforcement of the defamation act’s process plays a big role in the curbing of defamation cases within the country.
The criteria for someone to accuse another for libel or slander is progressive in nature. First, the statement in question must be proven defamatory. Next, the statement in question can be clearly traced back to the victim. Lastly, the statement in question should be published or communicated to a third party.
For the defense against defamation, justification and fair comment are two privileges that can be used against the accuser. There should be substantial proof and facts to prove the defamatory statement was indeed true. The defense can also prove that the comment was merely an expression of opinion, based on true facts or related to a matter of public interest.
The Defamation Act also covers the premises should neither of the two parties be successful in their defences. An “Offer of Amends” such as a public apology can be made to close the defamation case.