Nov 292010

Caroline Overington says “this is journalism”.

IT was bound to happen: Australia’s first high-profile Twitter defamation case is set to be launched, with editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell saying he will sue journalism academic Julie Posetti for something she posted on Twitter. This naturally caused a storm of protest: News Limited wants to crush bloggers! The mighty Murdoch press quakes at the power of Twitter! The facts are somewhat simpler: Posetti sat in on a conference where serious allegations were made about Mitchell. Posetti published those allegations without checking to see if they were true or asking Mitchell for a response. That’s the kind of mistake journalists try to avoid, but it does happen. If it had happened on a newspaper, the paper would have to apologise, correct the record, and if damage had been done to someone’s reputation, pay recompense. Strip out the sexy addition of social media, in other words, and this is journalism – the rules are there to keep us all honest, so let’s not try to bend them.

Serious allegations?? About Mitchell the person, or his editorial style in relation to Climate Change? If Julie Possetti “published those allegations without checking to see if they were true”, one presumes such a claim is made in the full knowledge that Possetti wasn’t present at the conference where said claims were made, which is not true. She WAS there, and tweeted as Wahlquist made her statements. The issue of context does come into play, but why would Possetti post something which wasn’t even remotely true, according to Mitchell?
Let me ask this. Is social media – Twitter in this case – simply a soap box for the inane and ill-mannered as many in the so-called ‘professional journalism’ sphere have declared, or is it in fact journalism of exactly the same calibre as the professionals? The law doesn’t see a great deal in it. From all the reading I’ve done and reportage from the conference in question by other attendees apart from Julie Possetti appears to bear out what she’d tweeted. Naturally, if Asa Wahlquist wants to, some day, go back to being a wage slave at The Oz, she’s going to say she was taken out of context. It’s a simple claim and one that’s entirely unable to be substantiated either way. Unless there’s a voice recording or video tape of the actual utterances the entire issue devolves into “he-said-she-said” and no-one wins other than the barristers for either side.
Regardless of how one feels about old media or new media, with jealousies obvious in both camps, the recent negative fallout from the now infamous ‘Groggate’ issue – the outing of blogger Greg Jericho by News Limited journalist James Massola on the pretext of ‘public interest’, and storm of protest from social media enthusiasts which ensued – one would think that rationally, Editor-in-Chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell would not want a repeat of that negativity casting darker shadows on his domain than already rest there. The interwebs are just overflowing with stories & different people’s ‘takes’ on the matter, with the majority of rationalisations coming from The Australian itself in a somewhat vain attempt to nullify the damage done by this simple act of bastardry.
That Mitchell should take affront at what is determined in legal circles to be hearsay, to me anyway, evokes the line from the Bard’s Hamlet, act 3, scene 2 “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. That he should do so with such alacrity as soon as the Possetti tweet was aired infers that perhaps he does indeed have something to hide.
In conclusion, I noted a particularly damning observation by a tweeter on Friday, referring to a probable Pyrrhic Victory in Mitchell’s favour. Look it up, reader. I fear the tweeter may well be right.

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