Category Archives: sub judice

DEFAMATION CASE UPDATE: Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd – identification and offer of amends appealed #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

CASE UPDATE: Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd – 2015, 2016 and 2017

I blogged in 2016 about a case where the mistaken identification of an innocent octogenarian tailor in place of his alleged gun-running son produced a useful case study for media law educators trying to explain the basic elements of defamation.

Indeed, the NSW District Court case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Limited & Ors [2015] NSWDC 232 remains an excellent introduction to defamation, although in October 2016 the NSW Court of Appeal overturned the publisher’s defence of “offer of amends” which was originally granted by the lower court, in the appeal case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd [2016] NSWCA 283, and awarded the plaintiff $150,000 in damages. The appellant, Mr Tony Zoef, also had a partial victory in a more recent appeal over the backdating of the damages award, costs and interest owing in Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd (No 2) [2017] NSWCA 2.

The first appeal is useful for educators explaining identification issues in defamation and the “offer of amends” defence requirements under s 18 of the Defamation Act 2005 (NSW) (Defamation Act) – and its equivalent in other Australian jurisdictions – while the 2017 appeal holds little value for media law teachers.

The case centred upon an article published in The Daily Telegraph on 22 August 2013.

It appeared a relatively straightforward case of confused identity, where the reporter mistakenly attributed to the older Mr Zoef – a suburban Sydney tailor – the alleged crimes of his son who lived at the same address. At trial, the sole basis on which Mr Zoef’s claim was dismissed was the newspaper’s defence that Mr Zoef had failed unreasonably to accept its offer of amends.

The article in the Telegraph (22-8-13, p. 9) carried the heading “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner”, which might also make an interesting topic of discussion for students around the issue of sub judice contempt: Does such a heading carry a presumption of the accused’s guilt when accompanying a report of a preliminary court appearance? [The article in question is attached to the judgment as a pdf file.]

The article portrayed a then 81-year-old suburban tailor (with a distinctive surname ‘Zoef’) as a gun-runner who had been arrested, charged and appeared in court facing charges related to him holding a huge cache of weapons and ammunition at his home.

Police had indeed raided his premises and had found weapons and ammunition in the house’s garage, occupied by the tailor’s 43-year-old son, who shared his father’s name and was the actual individual who had appeared in court facing those charges.

As I blogged in 2016, the trial judgment by District Court Judge Leonard Levy is a fascinating one for student discussion because several basic concepts in defamation were contested and resolved, including:

  • imputations – how they are worded and presented
  • the misidentification’s impact on the plaintiff’s relationships, business and emotional state
  • the question of identification and case law establishing the extent of defamation of a second person with the same name and address as the first [*** considered on appeal].
  • whether a claim for defamation will hold when some other identifying factors do not match one of the named individuals. [In this case, while the headline identified the plaintiff as a tailor, the article featured a small photograph of his 43 year old son and mentioned the younger man’s age]. [*** considered on appeal].
  • whether the defences of a fair report of proceedings of public concern could apply when there were serious inaccuracies in the article
  • whether an offer of amends had been reasonable and whether it had been accepted by the plaintiff [***the trial judge’s decision which was subsequently overturned on appeal].

The trial judge had held that, despite the serious errors in the reporting of the story and a dispute over whether the publisher’s offer of amends was reasonable and had been withdrawn, the newspaper was entitled to the offer of amends defence.

In the leading appeal judgment, Justice Fabian Gleeson stated:

Taking into account the seriousness of the defamatory imputations and the significant hurt they caused the appellant, the damage to his business as a tailor, the unequal prominence the respondent afforded to the proposed correction and apology and their resultant inadequacy, the modest monetary component of the offer, and the likelihood of the proceedings being successful, the offer of amends was not reasonable. His Honour was in error in finding to the contrary and upholding the respondent’s defence under s 18 of the Defamation Act. (at para 78).

His reasons for that decision involved a step-by-step appraisal of the offer of amends defence and thus make useful instructional material for educators wanting to explain this defence to students. It should also serve to remind journalists that the offer of amends is very much a ‘lawyers’ defence’ – not something that should be handled by journalists or editors independent of legal advice – and given its time constraints it means that counsel from lawyers on the efficacy and wording of any such offer should be sought promptly.

The publisher also challenged the trial judge’s findings on whether the plaintiff had been identified in the article when it carried a photograph of his son and stated his age as 43 years old.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial judge’s decision that Mr Zoef Sr had been identified in the article despite those countering factors. Justice Gleeson ruled:

The article in this case contained a prominent and sensational headline, which, when read together with the first paragraph (par 29), would be reasonably understood to refer to the appellant. The strength of the general impression thereby created surpasses and dominates that of the subsequent reference in par 30 to a “43 year old” which is not something the ordinary reasonable reader might be expected to have focused on, let alone re-read or reviewed. It lacked the prominence of the sensational headline and the focus on the local, relatable indicia of the identified person’s name, profession and locality in the foregoing paragraph.

In respect of the photograph, his Honour’s finding that it was “immaterial” is supported by three considerations. One is that the photograph was small, cropped, and, as his Honour found, “less than distinct”. Next, the appellant gave unchallenged evidence in cross-examination that his son was not known to his customers. No identification would therefore have been made on a visual basis by the appellant’s customers. Finally, the use of historical photographs in newspaper articles is not so uncommon as to render unreasonable a conclusion by the ordinary reasonable reader that the article (with an unfamiliar photo) referred yet to the appellant. (paras 159-160).

So there you have it. The Zoef case – both at trial and on appeal – holds valuable lessons for media law students and educators are encouraged to use it as a case study. I have done so successfully with both journalists and tertiary students.

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Filed under blogging, contempt of court, courts, defamation, free expression, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, Press freedom, sub judice, suppression, Uncategorized

Is an Open Justice Advocate the solution to overly restrictive suppression orders? #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

Jason Bosland [@JasonBosland] – Deputy Director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne Law School – has called for the introduction of a state-funded Open Justice Advocate as a measure to alleviate the continuing practice of judges issuing overly restrictive suppression orders.

Bosland’s explanatory article in Pursuit and his research article the Sydney Law Review come just as we are about to examine open justice and court restrictions in our Griffith University Media Law course, so they are essential reading for students.

He is the acknowledged leader in the field of suppression order scholarship in Australia and his work tracked firstly the need for the Open Courts Act 2013 in Victoria and, more recently, its failings to impact effectively on court practices.

Bosland writes in the Pursuit article:

This leads to a critical question: who is going to protect the fundamental principle of open justice if the courts themselves are not as vigilant as they should be and if the media are increasingly unable or unwilling to intervene? It is my view that the only solution is for the introduction of a state funded open justice advocate.

His longer Sydney Law Review is an expert combination of insightful policy analysis, meticulous scrutiny of the legislation, and illuminating statistics drawn from his funded research projects on the topic. I commend them to all media law geeks and students.

His concludes that article with this wise counsel:

This state of affairs is clearly unsatisfactory. The solution, however, is not to be found in further legislative reform of the courts’ powers. Rather, attention should be directed towards further professional and judicial education, and the development of a range of suitable model orders. Furthermore, a scheme facilitating the appearance of contradictors in suppression order applications — such as the Open Courts Act Duty Barrister Scheme introduced at the instigation of the Chief Justice — is likely to improve current practices. However, it will only be truly effective in solving the problems identified in the present study if it can be extended to all courts.

Insightful indeed.

[See also – my article in The Conversation on how the 2015 edition of our textbook inadvertently breached a Victorian suppression order and had to be reprinted.]

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Filed under blogging, citizen journalism, contempt of court, free expression, journalism, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, social media, sub judice

Identification error leads to a useful case for teaching the basic elements of defamation

**See UPDATE after appeal**

By MARK PEARSON

[research assistance from Virginia Leighton-Jackson]

The morphed identification of an innocent octogenarian tailor and his alleged gun-running son produces a useful case study for teachers and trainers trying to explain the basic elements of defamation.

The NSW District Court case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Limited & Ors [2015] NSWDC 232 centred upon an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (22-8-13, p. 9) with the heading “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner”. [The article in question is attached to the judgment as a pdf file.]

The article portrayed an 86-year-old suburban tailor with a distinctive name as a gun-runner who had been arrested, charged and appeared in court facing charges related to him holding a huge cache of weapons and ammunition at his home.

Police had indeed raided his premises and had found weapons and ammunition in the house’s garage, occupied by the tailor’s 43-year-old son, who shared his father’s name and was the actual individual who had appeared in court facing those charges.

The case is a fascinating one for student discussion because several basic concepts in defamation were contested and resolved, including:

  • imputations – how they are worded and presented
  • the misidentification’s impact on the plaintiff’s relationships, business and emotional state
  • the question of identification and case law establishing the extent of defamation of a second person with the same name and address as the first
  • whether a claim for defamation will hold when some other identifying factors do not match one of the named individuals. [In this case, while the headline identified the plaintiff as a tailor, the article featured a small photograph of his 43 year old son and mentioned the younger man’s age].
  • whether the defences of a fair report of proceedings of public concern could apply when there were serious inaccuracies in the article
  • whether an offer of amends had been reasonable and whether it had been accepted by the plaintiff.

On the question of identification, Judge Leonard Levy ruled:

Para 37   …where a plaintiff has actually been named in a defamatory publication it is not necessary for the plaintiff to show that those to whom the material was published knew the plaintiff: Mirror Newspapers Ltd v World Hosts Pty Ltd (1978 – 1979) 141 CLR 632, at 639.

38   Even so, the plaintiff must establish that the defamatory matter should be understood to be referring to him: Consolidated Trust Co Ltd v Browne (1948) 49 SR (NSW) 86, at 91. The determination of that question of identification is not to be decided by a consideration of what the publisher intended: Hutton v Jones [1910] AC 20.

39   In cases where a defamatory publication names one person but another person of the same name has been defamed, this can give rise to more than one claim: Lee v Wilson and Mackinnon (1934) 51 CLR 276, as cited in Australian Defamation Law and Practice, Volume 1, TK Tobin QC, MG Sexton SC, eds, 2003, at [6050].

40   In determining the question of identification, the question is, would a sensible reader reasonably identify the plaintiff as the person defamed: Morgan v Odhams Press Ltd [1971] 1 WLR 1239. …

49   In my view, the combined context … serves to adequately identify the plaintiff….

52   …the article strings together the plaintiff’s name, his profession, the fact that he lives in his home in the Sutherland Shire, and has a business altering the clothes of locals all point strongly to the article mentioning the plaintiff by his name and is sufficient of his personal situation to indicate it was him who was the subject of the article.

53   Those details all follow the sensational headline “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner” thereby making a connection between the plaintiff and the described illegal activity concerning the cache of weapons and ammunition found at the premises.

54   The fact that an unclear undated photograph of Tony Zoef appears in the article (at par 38) is immaterial. The fact the article identifies the age of the person the subject of the article as being a 43 year old does introduce an element of possible confusion (par 30) along with the indistinct photograph (at par 38), but inaccuracy of some details appearing in a newspaper article is not an unknown phenomenon.

55   The salient feature is that the plaintiff was named in the article with sufficient of his personal details to suggest he was thereby identified, although the latter details are not essential to that finding.

56   As the article in question named the plaintiff, in my view thereby identifying him, this forms the basis of his right to bring the proceedings without more being shown by him. The fact that there were two persons at the premises named Tony Zoef is immaterial. Both persons of that name could bring proceedings for defamation in their own names: Lee v Wilson and Mackinnon (1934) 51 CLR 276.

59   …I am nevertheless satisfied that the material complained of should be understood as referring to the plaintiff even though the publisher may not have intended that to be so: Consolidated Trust Co Ltd v Browne (1948) 49 SR (NSW) 86, at 91.

60   I consider that … an ordinary sensible reader would identify the plaintiff as the person the subject of the material complained of because of the specific of his name, profession, and locality as already explained. Such a reader… would not read such a sensational article as the one in question with critical and analytical care.

61   The article would be approached by such a reader with the permissible amount of loose thinking, and that reader would be reasonably entitled to draw the conclusion that the article was referring to the plaintiff, even though there were some elements of confusion such as a less than distinct photograph and a different age mentioned to that of the plaintiff. An ordinary reasonable reader would not necessarily know the plaintiff’s age or his level of interest in matters to do with space. The headline of “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner” would catch the attention of such a reader and permit the general impression of the story being a reference to the plaintiff: Mirror Newspapers Limited v World Hosts Proprietary Limited [1978 – 1979] 141 CLR 632, at p 646; Morgan v Odhams Press Ltd [1971] 1 WLR 1239.

The judge also considered the important question of the impact of headlines:

44   In cases involving headlines, it must be borne in mind that the ordinary reasonable reader will draw conclusions from general impressions when reading the matter complained of. Such general impressions are necessarily formed by the technique of using prominent headlines to communicate the principal message of the publication, and it must be recognised that in that process, such material may diminish the reputations of those affected: Chakravarti v Advertiser Newspapers Limited (1998) 193 CLR 519, at p 575.

A large portion of the judgment centred upon whether a defence of ‘offer of amends’ should be upheld under s 18(1)(c) of the Defamation Act. The judge held that, despite the serious errors in the reporting of the story and a dispute over whether the offer of amends was reasonable and had been withdrawn, the newspaper was entitled to the offer of amends defence.

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2016

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Filed under blogging, courts, defamation, free expression, journalism education, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, Press freedom, sub judice, suppression, Uncategorized

For those who missed it – the @RNMediaReport story on the Bayley suppression order #auslaw

By MARK PEARSON

As most people were heading off for their Easter vacation, Radio National’s Media Report ran a segment on how we discovered the new edition of our textbook was in breach of a suppression order on the name of Adrian Bayley – the man who murdered Jill Meagher.

My article in  The Conversation (excerpted below) explained what happened, and RN Media Report’s Richard Aedy followed it up with this interview last week:

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 5.17.41 PM

 


March 27, 2015 blog:

How the Adrian Bayley suppression order forced the reprinting of our new media law book #auslaw ]

It is somewhat alarming when a media law academic finds himself on the wrong side of a media law. But that is exactly what happened to me when I discovered the new edition of our textbook was in breach of a suppression order on the name of Adrian Bayley – the man who murdered Jill Meagher.

One of the manually redacted pages sent out to reviewers before our book was reprinted

One of the manually redacted pages sent out to reviewers before our book was reprinted

Our experience highlights serious problems with the system of suppression orders in the courts today as they try to grapple with the ever-increasing challenge of keeping internet-savvy jurors from having access to reports of the past trials or convictions of the accused.

Victorian County Court judge Sue Pullen issued the suppression order against anyone publishing “any information relating to previous convictions, sentences, or previous criminal cases of the accused”. The orders were lifted on Thursday after Bayley was convicted of raping three other women before he raped and murdered Meagher in September 2012.

On one view, Pullen’s orders constituted a “super injunction” because they suppressed mention of the proceedings – and therefore of the suppression order itself. Perhaps understandably, news of the order had not spread beyond the inner circle of lawyers and mainstream court reporters and editors, mainly in Victoria.

The suppression order only came to my knowledge as a Queensland-based academic when I happened to be sitting on a conference panel in Melbourne with a media lawyer and a judge last year discussing the futility of suppression orders in the modern era.

The media lawyer told the audience of court officers, lawyers, journalists and academics that he had recently appeared in court several times to try to have this particular suppression order overturned – without success. He said he could not be specific about the suppressed identity of the accused (wisely, as representatives of that court were sitting in the audience).

But when he mentioned the notorious crime itself my heart skipped a beat. It dawned on me that our new edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law, which was sitting in the publisher’s warehouse awaiting distribution, was in clear breach of the order. Bayley had been named and linked to the Meagher murder on three pages of the book. He also appeared in its index.

Continue reading the full version of this commentary in The Conversation

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

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Filed under blogging, citizen journalism, contempt of court, free expression, journalism, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, social media, sub judice

How the Adrian Bayley suppression order forced the reprinting of our new media law book #auslaw

By MARK PEARSON

It is somewhat alarming when a media law academic finds himself on the wrong side of a media law. But that is exactly what happened to me when I discovered the new edition of our textbook was in breach of a suppression order on the name of Adrian Bayley – the man who murdered Jill Meagher.

One of the manually redacted pages sent out to reviewers before our book was reprinted

One of the manually redacted pages sent out to reviewers before our book was reprinted

Our experience highlights serious problems with the system of suppression orders in the courts today as they try to grapple with the ever-increasing challenge of keeping internet-savvy jurors from having access to reports of the past trials or convictions of the accused.

Victorian County Court judge Sue Pullen issued the suppression order against anyone publishing “any information relating to previous convictions, sentences, or previous criminal cases of the accused”. The orders were lifted on Thursday after Bayley was convicted of raping three other women before he raped and murdered Meagher in September 2012.

On one view, Pullen’s orders constituted a “super injunction” because they suppressed mention of the proceedings – and therefore of the suppression order itself. Perhaps understandably, news of the order had not spread beyond the inner circle of lawyers and mainstream court reporters and editors, mainly in Victoria.

The suppression order only came to my knowledge as a Queensland-based academic when I happened to be sitting on a conference panel in Melbourne with a media lawyer and a judge last year discussing the futility of suppression orders in the modern era.

The media lawyer told the audience of court officers, lawyers, journalists and academics that he had recently appeared in court several times to try to have this particular suppression order overturned – without success. He said he could not be specific about the suppressed identity of the accused (wisely, as representatives of that court were sitting in the audience).

But when he mentioned the notorious crime itself my heart skipped a beat. It dawned on me that our new edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law, which was sitting in the publisher’s warehouse awaiting distribution, was in clear breach of the order. Bayley had been named and linked to the Meagher murder on three pages of the book. He also appeared in its index.

Continue reading the full version of this commentary in The Conversation

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

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Filed under blogging, citizen journalism, contempt of court, free expression, journalism, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, social media, sub judice

New @journlaw updates posted in privacy, anti-terror and confidentiality of sources #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

We have just posted numerous updates to the fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law – A handbook for communicators in a digital world (Mark Pearson & Mark Polden, A&U, 2015) on the journlaw.com blog.

Thanks to Leanne O’Donnell (mslods.com / @mslods), Virginia Leighton-Jackson and Griffith University media freedom interns and students we have been posting fresh material via this blog’s Media Law Updates menu.

You can find updates on recent cases, legislation and Australian and international media law news on the following topic areas:

Social Media Law

Free Expression

Legal and regulatory systems

Open Justice and Freedom of Information

Contempt of Court

Covering Court

Defamation

Secrets, Confidentiality and Sources

Anti-terror and hate laws

IP and copyright

Privacy

Law of PR, Freelancing and New Media Entrepreneurship

The sheer pace of change in all areas of media law is astounding so we have have built several mentions of journlaw.com into the chapters and discussion questions as a go-to resource for media law students.

We would also appreciate your input – whether you are a student, journalist, academic or lawyer.

Please email any contributions to these update sections to me, Mark Pearson, at journlaw@gmail.com .

Of course, the book and the journlaw.com examples are not meant to offer actual legal advice. Professional communicators must seek that advice from a lawyer when confronted with a legal problem. The most we claim to do is offer an introduction to each area of media law so that journalists, PR consultants and bloggers can identify an emerging issue and thus know when to call for help.

Order via Booktopia: http://www.booktopia.com.au/the-journalist-s-guide-to-media-law-mark-pearson/prod9781743316382.html

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

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Filed under blogging, citizen journalism, contempt of court, free expression, journalism, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, social media, sub judice, Uncategorized

Journlaw running updates to The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law

By MARK PEARSON

OUR fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law – A handbook for communicators in a digital world (Mark Pearson & Mark Polden, A&U, 2015) is now in bookshops and I will be running updates on each topic area via journlaw.com as we work towards the next edition.

Thanks to Leanne O’Donnell (mslods.com / @mslods), Virginia Leighton-Jackson and Griffith University media freedom interns and students we will be posting fresh material via this blog’s Media Law Updates menu.

There will be updates on recent cases, legislation and Australian and international media law news on the following topic areas:

Social Media Law

Free Expression

Legal and regulatory systems

Open Justice and Freedom of Information

Contempt of Court

Covering Court

Defamation

Secrets, Confidentiality and Sources

Anti-terror and hate laws

IP and copyright

Privacy

Law of PR, Freelancing and New Media Entrepreneurship

The sheer pace of change in all areas of media law is astounding so we have have built several mentions of journlaw.com into the chapters and discussion questions as a go-to resource for media law students.

We would also appreciate your input – whether you are a student, journalist, academic or lawyer.

Please email any contributions to these update sections to me, Mark Pearson, at journlaw@gmail.com .

Of course, the book and the journlaw.com examples are not meant to offer actual legal advice. Professional communicators must seek that advice from a lawyer when confronted with a legal problem. The most we claim to do is offer an introduction to each area of media law so that journalists, PR consultants and bloggers can identify an emerging issue and thus know when to call for help.

Order via Booktopia: http://www.booktopia.com.au/the-journalist-s-guide-to-media-law-mark-pearson/prod9781743316382.html

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, citizen journalism, contempt of court, free expression, journalism, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, social media, sub judice, Uncategorized