Aussie top court says media can be sued for readers’ social network comments

SYDNEY, 8 Sept 2021:

Australian media may be sued for defamatory comments made by their followers on pages they manage on social networks, according to a ruling issued today by Australia’s High Court, the country’s highest judicial instance.

The decision sets a legal precedent regarding the use of social networks in Australia.

It concerns media groups News Corp and Fairfax Media (currently owned by Nine) and the Australian News Channel sued by young Aboriginal Dylan Voller – whose mistreatment in a correctional facility in the Northern Territory was reported in 2016.

Voller, then 17, appeared in an ABC news report with his head covered by a white hood that made it difficult for him to breathe, while his guards tied his legs, arms and neck with shackles to a chair and left him as punishment for trying to harm himself.

Newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian or the cable television network Sky News – considered among the most important in the country – published stories about Voller on their Facebook pages, on which readers left allegedly offensive comments.

Voller initially wanted to sue these media for the defamatory comments, but the case branched out into a legal battle over whether these papers and channels were responsible for the defamatory comments left by third parties on their social networks.

That four-year battle was settled today with the Australian High Court ruling.

Australia’s highest court found “the Court of Appeal rightly found that the appellants’ actions in facilitating, encouraging and thus assisting the posting of comments by third-party Facebook users made them publishers of such comments.”

This decision will allow Voller to sue media groups for comments he considers defamatory.

For his part, legal expert David Rolph said in an article in The Conversation magazine that “it is yet to be decided whether the comments were defamatory and what defences media editors might have under defamation law.”

– EFE