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New public interest defamation defence the subject of chapter in investigative journalism book #MLGriff


A forthcoming book on changes to investigative journalism across three key liberal democracies features a chapter I have written on the new Australian public interest defence to defamation.

CoatneyCoverInvestigative Journalism in Changing Times – Australian and Anglo-American Reporting, is edited by University of Southern Queensland lecturer Dr Caryn Coatney, who has written five of the 12 chapters.

The book offers new insights into the crucial role of investigative journalism at a pivotal time of technological changes and upheavals.

It surveys innovations and unexpected impacts of the field, from past and present challenges, and what may be in store for the future of the industry.

It is due for publication by Routledge on December 30, 2022.

As explained in its cover notes, the book starts by exploring the increasingly investigative innovations in political and independent reporting, along with a comparison of the rhetoric and reality of a so-called “golden era” of investigative journalism in the past and the present.

The book proceeds to analyse the growth of creative and sports investigative reporting, as well as the ability of contemporary conflict journalism to overcome surmounting challenges.

It also examines the capacity of groundbreaking investigations, including data reporting, to expose injustices involving women, indigenous communities and other minorities.

It features interviews with key industry and research professionals, presenting the reactions of four media experts to the crises faced by investigative journalism in a digital environment of escalating disinformation, legal restrictions and popular interest in the news.

The book concludes by reflecting on previous and current challenges and offers insights into the prospect for investigative journalism of the future.

Presenting unique views on the diversity, resilience and transformative power of investigative journalism, this book will be a valuable resource to students and scholars of journalism, communication, media and politics, as well as professionals already operating within the field of journalism.

My chapter examines the fourth estate principle of the ‘public interest’ as informing important reforms to defamation law in Australia.

It offers an historical and international context to the law around investigative and public interest journalism and tracks some of the financial and legal hurdles investigative journalists and their publishers face when defending defamatory material in their reports.

Shortcomings of the key defences to defamation are highlighted with case examples.

It then details an important recent defamation law reform in Australia – the introduction of a new ‘public interest’ defence modelled on a 2013 UK predecessor – and considers the extent to which it might benefit the enterprise of investigative journalism using historical and international comparisons.

The chapter concludes by speculating how the new defence might have applied hypothetically to a current high-profile trial as a means of examining its potential utility for public interest journalism.

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 2022 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

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