Julie Posetti from the University of Canberra published reports from a speech by Asa Wahlquist, a former journalist at the Australian, who spoke at the Journalism Education Association of Australia conference. Posetti’s reports, published on the online discussion and networking site Twitter, reported Wahlquist as saying reporting on climate change at The Australian was “debilitating”, that it was “absolutely excruciating” and “torture”, that she left The Australian because she “just couldn’t do it any more”, that in the lead up to the 2010 election Mitchell was “increasingly telling me what to write”.
After the Vice Chancellor of Canberra University said he was concerned about the implication of Mitchell’s threat for freedom of academic expression, Mitchell said academic freedom did not extend to publishing “defamatory lies”. He also said it was “very worrying” that a journalism academic did not understand the laws of defamation”.
However, Australia’s uniform defamation laws say that it is a defence to defamation if one has published a fair report of a proceeding of public concern, including any public meeting at which a matter of public interest is discussed.
4ZZZ News understands a recording of Walhquist’s speech exists, which would demonstrate if Posetti’s report was fair or not.
UPDATE December 9:
On December 9 2010 lawyers acting for Ms Posetti rejected the claim by Mitchell that Posetti had defamed him – click here to read the letter (pdf file).
The letter rejects the defamation claim on the exact grounds stated in this article – that Posetti’s tweets, even if defamatory, were defensible because they were a fair report of a public meeting on a matter of public concern, as provided for under S29 of the NSW Defamation Act.