Tuesday, 2 June 2020

For years mainstream media have used a presence on the Facebook platform as an easy way to extend digital audience reach. What could possibly go wrong?

There are reputedly est. 15 to 16 million Australians with active Facebook accounts and many in the mainstream media avails themselves of the digital audience this represents by maintaining their own Facebook pages on which they publish newspaper articles with an accompanying comment, image and headline.

News Corp and Nine just found out the hard way that having unmoderated Facebook pages is never a wise choice.

In July 2017 then 20 year-old Dylan Voller commenced defamation proceedings against three media companies owned by News Corp and Nine Entertainment.

This is a news article abot the third and most recent judgment rendered in the ongoing legal saga.....

ABC News, 1 June 2020:

Three Australian media outlets have lost an appeal about a key ruling holding them responsible for the alleged defamation on Facebook of former Don Dale Youth Detention Centre detainee Dylan Voller. 

The 23-year-old is suing Fairfax Media — now owned by Nine Entertainment — Nationwide News and Sky News over comments posted by members of the public in response to articles they placed on their Facebook pages. 

Last year, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge ruled the media companies were publishers of the comments — and therefore liable for them — and the media companies appealed. 

The NSW Court of Appeal today dismissed the challenge and said it was clear the relevant Facebook pages were created on the basis users would be invited to post comments. 

Justices John Basten, Anthony Meagher and Carolyn Simpson said the organisations "accepted responsibility for the use of their Facebook facilities for the publication of comments, including defamatory comments".  
"It was the applicants who provided the vehicle for publication to those who availed themselves of it," they wrote in the judgment. 

'Turning a blind eye' no defence 

The judges said it was not uncommon for someone to be held liable for publishing defamatory imputations conveyed by "matter composed by another person". 

They drew parallels to cases where the owners or occupiers of buildings had been taken to court over defamatory statements on noticeboards or scrawled in graffiti. 

The court is yet to tackle the question of whether the material in question was defamatory. 

In his initial decision last year, Justice Stephen Rothman said defendants could not escape consequences of their actions by "turning a blind eye". 

He also ruled the defence of innocent dissemination was not available because the defendants were first or primary distributors. 

Mr Voller's statement of claim alleges he was defamed by imputations including that he had "brutally bashed a Salvation Army Officer", had raped an elderly woman, that he committed a carjacking and that he had bitten off someone's ear. 

The comments were posted between July 2016 and June 2017 on pages run by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Sky News, The Bolt Report and The Centralian Advocate. 

Mr Voller's treatment at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, which was the subject of an ABC Four Corners investigation in 2016, sparked a royal commission into youth detention facilities.

The judgment in Fairfax Media Publications; Nationwide News Pty Ltd; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller [2020] NSWCA 102 dismissed the appeal, ordered the applicants pay the respondent’s costs in the appeal proceedings and dismissed the notice of motion of Bauer Media Pty Ltd, Dailymail.com Australia Pty Ltd and Seven West Media Ltd filed on 23 August 2019 (the latter three media companies having sought leave to appear as amici curiae in the proceedings).

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