Saturday, December 14, 2002


Practically the whole of the internet seems to be of the view that Dow Jones SHOULD be allowed to describe an Australian businessman who has been convicted of no crime as "a schemer given to stock scams, money laundering and fraud". I think this is an appalling disregard for individual rights and freedoms and I would have expected conservative bloggers at least to stand up for such freedoms. Mr Gutnick�s right not to be slandered is the obligation of Dow Jones not to slander him. All rights imply duties.

The altar on which internet and mass-media writers are willing to sacrifice Mr Gutnick appears to be some view that no laws should have worldwide reach. Yet this principle seems to be a totally new invention. Nobody has ever doubted that murderers should be pursued across international boundaries, for instance. So why not slanderers? The difference seems to be a quibble about where the crime was committed. Because the utterance that damaged Mr Gutnick�s reputation in his home town was forged and launched overseas it is argued that Mr Gutnick should have no redress. So if I fire a bullet across an international border and kill someone, should the person I kill have no redress? Obviously not.

So the real issue comes down to what is a crime -- and that something which has redress as a crime in Australia has no redress in the USA. And the reason that an obvious crime has no redress in the USA is thought to be compelling: That effective libel laws restrict a free press. But this is nonsense. All law consists of finding a balance and drawing lines between what is acceptable and what is not -- and Australian law draws the line in a way that both protects the individual and also allows a vigorously critical press that pursues wrongdoers on a daily basis. The press has to employ lawyers to see that it does not overstep the boundaries and report rumour or mere allegation as fact but that is as it should be.

So the remaining question is whether a small degree of international �forum shopping� for redress of grievances should be allowed. Should those who utter a slander have to consider not only the law in their own country but also the law in the country of the person slandered? I can see no earthly reason why not and nor could the High Court of Australia. And if the effect of the High Court judgement is for good law to drive out bad law to a small degree who should mourn? I think it is highly desirable that big media in the USA should be made more careful about speaking only what is demonstrably true --- even if it is only about foreigners that they are made to speak the truth.

Update: At least Ken Parish seems to agree with me in general on the matter.


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