Peter Breen & Associates
Mark Dries v Channel Nine (FCA) NSD706/2022
Falsely accusing a person of being a suspect in a crime
Mark Dries is an independent excavations and road building contractor on the north coast of New South Wales and has successfully operated his business for the past 30 years. In an episode of the television program ‘Million Dollar Murders’, broadcast on June 6, 2022, Channel Nine falsely accused Mark of being a suspect in the 1997 murder of Lee Stace. At the time of the crime, Mark was fishing with a group of friends including his then solicitor, and he could not possibly have been involved.
Proceedings were commenced in the Federal Court of Australia when Channel Nine failed to adequately respond to a Concerns Notice issued under the Defamation Act (NSW). After Channel Nine filed a defence to the claim, Justice Katzmann ordered mediation in February 2023. As a consequence of mediation, Channel Nine issued an apology to Mark and removed all references to him from the television program. The case was settled on confidential terms and without admission.
Loder v Bolton HCA S132/2020
Asking others to ‘like’ a comment on Facebook may be defamatory
This case was referred by the Environmental Defender’s Office in New South Wales. Ann Loder had been a vocal opponent of gas mining in the Pilliga Forest near Narrabri in north-western New South Wales. Ann was sued in defamation for a comment on Facebook, arguing in her defence that it could not be defamatory to like a page on Facebook, so it should not be defamatory to ask others to like the page. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the primary judge to the effect that Ann had defamed the mayor of Narrabri. As well as urging others to like the page, Ann affirmed comments that were found to be defamatory.
An application for leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia was lodged in Canberra on Ann’s behalf, an application that coincided with the Voller case (Australian News Channel P/L v Voller HCA S107/2020). In Voller, major news channels asked the High Court for leave to appeal a finding that the publisher of third-party comments on Facebook is responsible for defamatory imputations in those comments. As a general rule, the High Court will not give leave to appeal on related matters, and when leave was granted in Voller, there were few surprises that Ann Loder’s leave to appeal was refused.
Chatfield v Talkabout Magazine
Using a picture of a person on a magazine cover without permission
Byron Bay sculptor, Judson Chatfield, was shocked and dismayed to find in the reception room of a Byron medical practice his picture on the front cover of a widely published health magazine. The publisher of the magazine purchased the image of Judson online from what seemed to be a reputable seller of stock images. Unfortunately, Judson had not provided the image, and had never authorized anyone to use his image without his permission. He argued that the image on the front cover of Talkabout Magazine was defamatory of him and that he suffered damage to his reputation as a result of the publication. The publisher issued an apology and settled Judson’s claim on confidential terms and without admission of liability.