Tim Blair


New Criterion



Wednesday, May 14, 2003
HERE IS AN EGREGIOUSLY long blog, justified only because Uncle is so pleased to find he has a reader who also reads the full text of the reports of the ACT Supreme Court, and because reader James shows that the gruesome crew at Media Watch are deeper-dyed lying hounds than he had ever supposed.

He is referring to Uncle's recent review of Media Watch's exculpation of Media Watch last Monday night.

Actually the judge found that both the plagiarism and "lazy
journalism" comments were false and defamatory:

"144. In truth, the effort put into and the preparation for
all of the programs referred to, including "The Evil that Men Do"
bespeaks the opposite. The real criticism is that, in the instances
chosen, including the present, 60 Minutes was retelling a story
previously told, usually in greater depth and to a different audience
served by a different outlet. That different outlet was, almost
invariably, catering to a much lesser audience in terms of numbers.
60 Minutes adopts a "popular press" rather than a "quality press"
approach. Indeed, the Media Watch approach simplistically focussing
on similarities in the retelling of stories is no more valid a
criticism as a complaint that the Telegraph Herald had told a similar
story, though more succinctly, to an in-depth article in the Sydney
Morning Herald. It is an elitist view that ignores the fact that the
audiences for the stories in question are different. As already
noted, it is not plagiarism, nor is it "lazy", to take inspiration
from a previous story and to re-tell it as 60 Minutes did in each
case in their own style.
145. The imputation of lazy journalism is also false and
defamatory. The defence of truth fails."

However, the judge upheld the defence of "fair comment", because he
felt that MW honestly believed their claims, and they were not
motivated by malice:

"252. In my view, the production of a program designed to
imitate or copy a previous program could honestly be believed to be
plagiarism assuming, of course, lack of attribution. It is not, in
my opinion, a fair or reasonable opinion, but it is one an honest
commentator could honestly hold. In that sense the Media Watch
broadcasts do not go beyond the protection of fair comment.
Consistently with that view, the characterisation of past programs
exhibiting similar characteristics could be so characterised by an
honest, though wrong-headed or ill-informed, commentator. It is,
therefore, unnecessary to determine whether honesty alone is
253. A fortiori, to comment upon the production of such a
program that it bespeaks "lazy journalism", though, in my view, it
sets the bar for diligent journalism unreasonably high, is not an
opinion an honest commentator could not honestly hold.
254. It follows that the defence of fair comment succeeds
unless the plaintiffs can show that it is defeated by malice or lack
of bona fides (the same thing)."

In my view Carleton was entitled to be "elated" (the court found he
was neither lazy not a plagiarist), and Marr's "spin" on the outcome
of the case gives no credit to Media Watch. Marr claims that the
judge found that Media Watch exercised "reasonable care". He did no
such thing. Let's hear from the judge once more:

"198. That leaves the question of the logic, fairness and,
hence, the reasonableness of the Media Watch conclusions. It is at
this point, in my view, that the defences of qualified
privilege/protection fail.
199. Whilst I cannot conclude, and do not conclude, that Mr
Barry or Mr McEvoy, and, hence, the ABC, were expressing their
opinions of the 60 Minutes program dishonestly, their conclusions
were illogical, unfair and unreasonable."

You can read the full judgement here: