Nine and News Corp will both be held legally responsible for defamatory comments made on their social media pages, the NSW Supreme Court has ruled.
The case involves a series of 2016 articles published on The Australian, The Centralian Advocate, Sky News Australia’s The Bolt Report, and The Sydney Morning Herald (then owned by Fairfax), concerning former Northern Territory youth detainee Dylan Voller.
Voller has now won the first round of the defamation case, with his claims against the media companies set to continue.
The actual articles were not ruled defamatory, rather comments made by the public on various Facebook posts published by the outlets sharing the story.
“Each defendant was not merely a conduit of the comment,” said Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rothman in his judgment.
“[They] provided the forum for its publication and encouraged, for its own commercial purposes, the publication of comments.”
“A defendant cannot escape the likely consequences of its action by turning a blind eye to it.”
Rothman ruled the media outlets were the publishers of the comments as social media pages are used with the primary objective to “optimise readership of the newspaper (whether hard copy or digital) or broadcast and to optimise advertising revenue”.
The decision largely rested on a report by social media expert and founder of Pepper IT Ryan Shelley, which declared the occasional monitoring of comments by such media companies as insufficient, “particularly for media outlets of significant size and with significant available resources”.
“Strategies could have been put in place to allow for a more robust and deliberate attempt at monitoring comments.”
News Corp said the decision shows “how far out of step” Australia’s defamation laws are with the rest of the English-speaking world.
“It defies belief that media organisations are held responsible for comments made by other people on social media pages,” the media giant said in a statement.
“It is ridiculous that the media company is held responsible while Facebook, which gives us no ability to turn off comments on its platform, bears no responsibility at all.”
News Corp has also announced it is “reviewing the judgment with a view to an appeal”.