November 26, 2022

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Chau Chak Wing’s $590,000 defamation earn exhibits investigative journalism is risky organization

5 min read

What are the major domestic information stories you keep in mind from the last number of several years?

Aside from all the natural disasters, I believe of tales about George Pell, the protection that led to the Banking Royal Fee, the SAS in Afghanistan and for the reason that I am a legislation nerd, the reporting on previous Substantial Court Justice Dyson Heydon.

Several of these stories are the product or service of investigative journalism. This is not the sort of “journalism” you see in a tabloid rag or a late-night rant on Sky Information. It is the variety of large-excellent journalism that usually takes time and tolerance.

In accordance to the United Nations, investigative journalism is:

the unveiling of issues that are concealed either intentionally by somebody in a position of electrical power, or accidentally, at the rear of a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances — and the evaluation and publicity of all suitable details to the community.

Investigative journalism is not about creating friends

In quite a few conditions, investigative journalism usually means contacting out wrongdoing. Predictably, these on the acquiring conclude of journalists’ investigations may possibly not like it.

For illustration, final November, the ABC’s Four Corners aired “Inside of the Canberra bubble”.

Attorney-General Christian Porter
Legal professional-Basic Christian Porter was the issue of a 4 Corners’ investigation in 2020.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The bundled allegations of MPs, including Legal professional-Common Christian Porter, behaving inappropriately to feminine personnel.

In reaction, Porter flagged lawful motion.

specified the defamatory mother nature of several of the statements built in [the] plan, I will be thinking of legal choices.

One of those options is to sue the ABC, and the journalists powering the story, in defamation.

Chau Chak Wing

One more highly effective male who was on the getting close of a 4 Corners story is Chau Chak Wing.

In 2017, 4 Corners claimed on the dealings of the Chinese-Australian businessman and philanthropist.

Around the yrs, Chau has donated big sums of income to numerous charitable causes and political events in Australia.

The “Electric power and Influence” plan implied Chau had utilized his electric power to go after China’s passions in Australia in an incorrect way.

ABC's Brisbane headquarters.
The Four Corners program on Chau Chak Wing aired in 2017.
Dan Peled/AAP

The story was a fruits of a joint investigation by the ABC and Fairfax (now owned by Nine), and included investigative journalist Nick McKenzie, between other individuals.

Chau sued the ABC, Fairfax and McKenzie in defamation. Before this 7 days, he had a major win, with the Federal Court docket awarding him $A590,000 in damages.

Justice Steven Rares determined the program conveyed the plan Chau experienced knowingly bribed a United Nations official, and was a member of the Chinese Communist Celebration, between other matters. The allegations in the program were being “seriously defamatory”, justifying a massive damages award.

Paperwork in parliament

Media and cost-free speech advocates did not like this choice.

For example, just after the judgment was released, Liberal MP Tim Wilson used the authorized shield of parliamentary privilege to desk FBI files relating to the allegations thought of in the defamation scenario.




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These documents ended up not community just before the circumstance was handed down. Nonetheless, in my impression, if the documents were being publicly available a several several years in the past, and if they had been admissible in Chau’s defamation action, they may perhaps have altered some of the court’s findings on the defendants’ liability.

That is since the documents are related to the allegation Chau had compensated income to the UN formal, John Ashe.

But, as Justice Rares explained in 2018, product lined by parliamentary privilege – which includes paperwork tabled in parliament – just can’t be employed in this way. The Parliamentary Privileges Act presents you simply cannot use these kinds of paperwork in a courtroom proceeding to create the credibility of a man or woman, like a journalist.

Chau has under no circumstances been billed with any criminal offence and there is no recommendation by The Dialogue or the author that he has engaged in any felony perform.

Is not real truth a defence?

It is. Australia’s uniform defamation legislation have a “defence of justification”, which implies you are not liable if you can confirm the substantial truth of the matter of what you have claimed.

In the Chau case, the Federal Courtroom made the decision in 2018 the media defendants couldn’t rely on justification. The defendants appealed, and missing. The explanations ended up technical, but to summarise: the defendants could not present they could establish the facts to justify the plan.




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At just one phase of the proceedings, the media defendants relied on a defence known as “competent privilege”. This is like a public fascination defence, which could possibly support in instances in which you report a thing defamatory out of some responsibility.

The media defendants deserted their competent privilege defence in 2020. The defence requires the carry out of the defendant was “reasonable in the circumstances” — they could have been nervous the judge would not have assumed they have been fair.

Legislation reform ahead to shield public desire journalism

Chau’s case highlights the hard situation facing Australian investigative journalists. They want to uncover grime, but in performing so expose them selves to significant litigation risk. And if they get it completely wrong, that hazard can appear back to bite them.




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Australia’s ‘outdated’ defamation legislation are changing – but you can find no ‘revolution’ but


Journalists need to have the details to support not just what they say explicitly, but what their work implies. This requires a great deal of get the job done and time, and is not aided by the major position losses in the media field. Reporters’ time is treasured. But so are reputations.

A new defence will make journalists’ lives a lot easier. In 2020, the states and territories agreed to reform the uniform defamation guidelines. Despite the fact that the agreed amendments are not still in pressure, they ought to be in 2021.

The modifications contain a new defence of “publication of matter concerning an issue of community interest”.

This defence will enable the media to count a lot more seriously on editorial judgement in publishing their investigative work. The defendant will not be liable if they “reasonably believed that the publication of the make a difference was in the community interest”.

Would this have built a variation in the Chau circumstance? Maybe.

But even when this new law is in drive, journalists will nonetheless require to tread meticulously. As prolonged as they are talking truth of the matter to electrical power, investigative journalism will keep on being a risky enterprise.