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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jennifer Wilson offers more thoughts on being sued

She offers them here. What all this is showing is how defamation law can be used to chill legitimate debate on matters of public interest. This is an atrocious situation that is out of whack with liberal/democratic values.

At the moment, ordinary people who are sued by others who are wealthier and more powerful can easily be driven into financial ruin - such is the cost of defending a defamation claim.

It's time for a thorough and decisive overhaul of our defamation laws to deter these sorts of actions - not just to rationalise them between states. We need a community campaign for freedom of speech, with the aim of paring back the multitude of laws that restrict what we can say to the very minimum of what is needed to protect people from the social death of serious damage to reputation (such as being falsely accused of pedophilia) or very serious embarrassment (as when the media snoop into your bedroom).

Criticising the motivations of public figures, or calling on them to be more candid about their motivations, should not be actionable. If you're a public figure, you should be open to criticism of that kind. It comes with the territory, and it should be put beyond doubt that this sort of thing is legally acceptable.

Pass it on.

Again, there may need to be some sort of community mobilisation to raise money for Wilson's legal costs if she defends the action. We'll wait and see. I'm not flush with loot, but if push comes to shove I'll give at least something. Further, if I can help in some other way, by giving some time and effort to her gratis, I'll do that.

You might like to start thinking about what you could do.

The attacks on freedom of speech have to stop. It's time to draw a line in the sand over this. This could be Australia's equivalent of the Simon Singh case.

5 comments:

rorschach said...

Passed on.

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks!

Russell Blackford said...

And I retweeted the link to your post.

Bubblecar said...

I would urge Jennifer to call her bluff, don't apologise and certainly don't give this person any money. It's unlikely this case would stand up in court.

Her lawyers themselves can surely spot the absurd inconsistency in the two demands made, which basically say:

1) Our client is not prepared to divulge her religious denomination, and YOU HAVE GUESSED THE WRONG ONE! We demand an apology!
2) Our client is not at all secretive about her religious affiliations, but you have claimed that she is! We demand an apology!

...it really is beyond laughable.

Carmichael said...

Agreed Bubblecar. It's hard to see how this can do anything but damage to MTR's image, even if she wins, but I can't believe that Australian law could possibly be such that there is a case to answer here. I have to admit, though, I'd be tempted to sue if someone called me a Baptist!