Journalist sources and defamation law reform

I’d not be the first to state the obvious – that our defamation laws are punishingly expensive, complex and slow.  This is not a new thing. But given the disruption journalism is now undergoing, these laws need quite urgent reform. In this piece for Inside Story I’m citing as evidence the latest gruelling round in the journalist sources battle between Helen Liu and The Age. The strain of this Dickensian defamation system doesn’t just fall on publishers. It’s pretty bad for everyone caught up in it, and it’s justice delayed at best. The Liu fight concerns a “traditional media” newspaper story, researched before publication by “professional” journalists, and backed by expert lawyers. But an increasing number of defamation cases concern publications – that is, posts and tweets – by everyday people on social media. In the digital world everyone is a publisher.  This is new.  But the costs, the stress and the time involved in defamation litigation have barely changed since the days of few-to-many publishing. Defamation law was creaky then. Now, it’s pretty much unfit for purpose.

It’s high time for defamation law reform.

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