Hey, remember that court ruling in Australia of Internet Libel? New development
Story for the Financial Times
WORLD NEWS: US journalist challenges internet libel ruling
By Nikki Tait in London
Financial Times; Apr 17, 2003
A US journalist yesterday filed a plea with the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, alleging that a landmark Australian High Court decision violated his right to free speech.
The ruling, last December, found that a Melbourne-based businessman could sue Dow Jones locally for defamation over an article on its website. It was significant because it was the first time any country's highest court had decided the jurisdiction issue in a defamation case involving internet-based publication.
The outcome prompted some lawyers and news organisations to warn of a "chilling effect". Owners and editors of internet web pages could be forced to censor material, rather than risk legal action in countries with stringent libel laws or constraints on freedom of speech, they argued.
The case had involved Joseph Gutnick, an Australian mining entrepreneur, who alleged he was defamed by an article written by William Alpert, a reporter for Barron's, and posted on the Dow Jones website.
Mr Gutnick said he wanted to have his reputation vindicated in Victoria, the Australian state where he lives. Dow Jones argued that the article had actually been "published" in New Jersey, where the news group maintains its web servers.
The High Court said defamation was ordinarily to be located at the place where damage to reputation occurred and where the information was available in comprehensible form - in short, giving Mr Gutnick the go-ahead to sue locally.
Yesterday, Mr Alpert said he had filed the action with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights because he was concerned about the impact of the High Court decision on financial reporting.
"I fear restrictions on the ability of financial journalists, such as myself, to report truthfully to US investors on the activities of foreigners who are actively engaged in US markets," he said.
Australia, he added, had accepted the jurisdiction of the UN Human Rights Committee. "[It] is obligated to modify Australia's libel laws, should the committee find that those laws unduly restrict the right of free speech."