Twitdef encouraging more forensic scrutiny of The Australian

Have you seen Caroline Ovington’s short Media Diary entry on the #twitdef saga from The Australian. It was written one day after Julie Posetti received a lawyer’s letter demanding an apology to Chris Mitchell. Is that significant?

Media Diary | November 30, 2010 | 0 Comments

THE ABC has obtained audio of former rural reporter for The Australian Asa Wahlquist speaking at a journalism conference in Sydney last week.

The tape is here.

Canberra academic Julie Posetti live-Tweeted the event. Her Tweets are a fair summary of what Wahlquist said.

Wahlquist, who left the Oz a month ago, has told Mitchell that her comments have been taken out of context.

The Australian’s editor in chief, Chris Mitchell, says the Tweets are defamatory of him, and that Posetti did not contact him to get his side of the story.

And there it rests.

(There’s some confusion on Twitter as to what `there it rests’ means. It means: that’s all I have. I have no more.)

“I have no more.” What a sad admission for a senior journalist with excellent access to many sources on this story – including Chris Mitchell. Ovington could have consulted any number of independent media law experts. I’m sure Mark Pearson would have spoken to her about defamation, fair report and comment, or possible defences.

Mark has had plenty to say.

So too has another independent media academic: NYU’s Jay Rosen.who did a great Q&A with Woolly Days’ Derek Barry.

Rosen told me he saw it as a critical part of a larger battle.
“As the Murdoch empire faces the loss of the emperor–his lost grip, his inability to master digital, or his eventual passing–it starts behaving erratically and in that state it becomes rather dangerous: to itself, but also to other people and to cultural treasures like freedom of the press,” he said.

But the Empire has an Achilles Heel, according to Rosen: “Murdoch cannot master digital.”

In fact, Ms Overington could have written a cracker of a piece just by reviewing what the blogosphere was talking about. But maybe Jay Rosen’s got a point.

The suggestion’s been made that Overington’s diary note signalled that Chris Mitchell was prepared to drop his legal action and that acknowledging that Posetti’s tweets were “a fair summary” was a sign the paper would back off.

The #twuckup has also åttracted attention on science blogs. The debate has widened into an examination of several issues.

An interesting one, that I’m sure will cause Chris Mitchell some regret, is the focus on The Australian’s climate reporting.

On The Drum Jonathan Holmes also has another go on that score too.

It’s also worth noting that this is not Julie’s first run-in with The Australian. She explains it all in this post on The Drum from 5 October this year.

What appears to have surfaced here is that The Australian actively campaigns against its social media critics.

If the allegations revealed here are true then it’s a national scandal.

If you believe the accounts of several Twitter users who contacted me last week, bullying tactics were employed in the process of trying to manage the criticism of The Australian – and James Massola’s stories specifically – as tweeters reacted en masse to Grog’s Gamut’s outing.

They claimed that a reporter on The Australian had telephoned their employers, asking for action to be taken against employees for comments (some using very strong language) directed at James Massola via Twitter.

One of those allegedly targeted – an employee of a large corporation who asked to remain anonymous – told me:

“(He) contacted someone at my work to complain that I was being unpleasant… on Twitter. My work stated that employees were free to speak their minds on their own time. It did however leave me with a sense of caution – no-one likes having their employment threatened by a major newspaper’s employee merely for expressing an opinion.”

As you can see, there’s certainly a fire burning around here somewhere – just look at all that smoke.


2 Responses to Twitdef encouraging more forensic scrutiny of The Australian

  1. I wonder if Mitchell exercises any control over what Overington writes?

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