Aussie Censorship In Action: National Enquirer Editor Threats Get Bookstores To Block Sale Of Ronan Farrow Book

from the intermediary-liability dept

We've covered a few times in the past some of the oddities of both Australia's defamation laws and its views on intermediary liability. Our big complaint regarding both of those things is how they end up enabling censorship by the powerful of critical reporting and commentary. Perhaps a perfect example of this is former National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard having some pricey lawyers threaten Australian booksellers if they decided to offer Ronan Farrow's new book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. If you haven't guessed, a part of Farrow's book covers efforts by the Enquirer to "get dirt" on certain people in what appears to be an attempt to suppress their credibility or ability to go public, and also to engage in the practice of "catch and kill" (from whence the book gets its title) a story by "buying" the exclusive rights to it, only to kill it.

It appears that some of those threats have worked, as a number of booksellers have chosen not to sell the book (though some others, admittedly, are still offering it for sale). Of course, the threat letter to the various book retailers has some weasel wording, allowing Howard and his lawyers to pretend that they're not trying to seek the blocking of the book:

“We have been consulted by Dylan Howard in relation to false and defamatory allegations, which he has been advised and has reason to believe will be included in the above-named book,” the Tweed firm wrote in a Sept. 27 letter to Hive Store Limited, one of the targeted booksellers (which sources say also include Britain’s W.H. Smith and Wordery chains).

“We have put the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group Limited on notice that, if the offending content is included in the book, we are instructed to take such legal action as may be appropriate,” the letter continued.

The letter concluded: “You are now on notice under UK and Irish defamation laws of the potential defamatory content within the said book. We would therefore urge you to satisfy yourselves that the offending references to our client have been removed prior to distribution by your company.”

See if you can spot the weasel words. There are a lot of conditional statements, basically saying that "if" there's defamatory content in the book, then the booksellers will be "on notice," and (so the letter claims) potentially liable. As the Daily Beast article linked above notes, Howard has previously sued other media properties to stop them from covering news about himself:

Howard and American Media sought court orders restraining the broadcaster from airing footage obtained in the lobby of the publisher's New York headquarters on March 7 this year and requiring Channel Nine to hand over the allegedly "improperly obtained material" for destruction.

It's quite incredible for a journalist (especially one working for a publication with as dubious a history as the National Enquirer) to be attacking freedom of speech when it regards reporting about himself.

Filed Under: australia, books, catch and kill, censorship, defamation, dylan howard, intermediary liability, ronan farrow


Reader Comments

The First Word

Where's the "censorship"? This isn't government.

A threat of legal action, by its nature, invokes the idea of involving a court of law in a given situation. The legal system is part of the government. Ergo, threatening a lawsuit to prevent the publication or sale of speech that would otherwise be protected by law (unless/until deemed otherwise) is an attempt to censor that speech using the power of the government.

You hold that Facebook / GOOGLE / Twitter besides payment processors all at once and in collusion "de-platforming Alex Jones doesn't approach "censorship" because NOT gov't.

Y’know, you say I have “Trump Derangement Syndrome”¹, but you seem to have a case of “Big Tech Derangement Syndrome” — i.e., you’re saying a bunch of bullshit that isn’t backed by facts and evidence.¹ And yes, deplatforming Alex Jones isn’t censorship. Because, as I’ve said many times before…

Moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”. Discretion is you saying “I won’t do that there”. Censorship is someone saying “you can’t do that anywhere” before or after threats of either violence or government intervention.


¹ — Criticizing Trump for his obvious failings as both a leader and a human being is not “derangement”, by the by.

² — For example: Facebook and Google and such acted in collusion to simultaneously deplatform Alex Jones, even though he had no legal right to use those platforms in the first place and his various bans all happened at different times, without an offer of proof beyond “but I said so”.

—Stephen T. Stone
made the First Word by Gary

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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:04pm

    Donald Trump is probably on the phone with Australian authorities right now to inquire about the possibility of using the Aussie courts to sue his enemies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      The name I forgot before., 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:16pm

      Re: "Stone" has Trump Derangement Syndrome.

      There's no "bad" case of it, as a binary condition, and you has it, sonny.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:29pm

        Which one makes me deranged: criticizing Trump for his failings as president, criticizing Trump for his failings as a human being, mocking Trump for his failings in either category, or all of the above? 🙃

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:33pm

          Re:

          I think it is trying to suggest that saying anything that might possibly not reflect 'The One True Trump' in the most awe inspiring maner possible, is a sign of mental illness.

          I suspect it's probably a sign of sanity instead, but I guess if you only surround yourself with insanity, sanity might look like a form of mental illness.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:36pm

            if you only surround yourself with insanity, sanity might look like a form of mental illness

            See also: Trump, Donald J.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:38pm

              Re:

              Thanks, but I'll pass. I have a weak stomach for intellectually repulsive things.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Gary (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 8:16pm

                Re: Re:

                "Deranged" is crying like a baby someone points out that Trump lies. Or dodged the draft. Or cheated on his pregnant wife. Or backstabbed our allies. Or tries to fill a moat with alligators. Or builds a wall around Colorado.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 6:03pm

      • Donald Trump is probably on the phone with Australian authorities right now to inquire about the possibility of using the Aussie courts to sue his enemies. *

      That's called libel tourism, and it used to be fairly common... with the English courts the usual target of the worst abuses. A couple of things were done to address the problem: the UK tightened its libel laws and the US Obama administration passed the SPEECH Act to ensure that foreign libel judgements are not recognised stateside if the foreign court has even weaker safeguards than the US court.

      Not that Australia isn't wide open to abuse... anyone remember right-wing politico Pauline Hanson suing to prevent the ABC from broadcasting a parody song from drag queen "Pauline Pantsdown"?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:13pm

    Why does the letter mention UK and Irish defamation law?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Warez Hunter, 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:15pm

    Where's the "censorship"? This isn't government.

    Or, has your flexible definition caught me out again? Is mere private action of sending a letter "censorship" when upsets YOU?

    You hold that Facebook / GOOGLE / Twitter besides payment processors all at once and in collusion "de-platforming Alex Jones doesn't approach "censorship" because NOT gov't.

    This simply CAN'T, by YOUR PRIOR standard, be "censorship", right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:24pm

      Re: Where's the "censorship"? This isn't government.

      Please try framing coherent thoughts.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:28pm

      Where's the "censorship"? This isn't government.

      A threat of legal action, by its nature, invokes the idea of involving a court of law in a given situation. The legal system is part of the government. Ergo, threatening a lawsuit to prevent the publication or sale of speech that would otherwise be protected by law (unless/until deemed otherwise) is an attempt to censor that speech using the power of the government.

      You hold that Facebook / GOOGLE / Twitter besides payment processors all at once and in collusion "de-platforming Alex Jones doesn't approach "censorship" because NOT gov't.

      Y’know, you say I have “Trump Derangement Syndrome”¹, but you seem to have a case of “Big Tech Derangement Syndrome” — i.e., you’re saying a bunch of bullshit that isn’t backed by facts and evidence.¹ And yes, deplatforming Alex Jones isn’t censorship. Because, as I’ve said many times before…

      Moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”. Discretion is you saying “I won’t do that there”. Censorship is someone saying “you can’t do that anywhere” before or after threats of either violence or government intervention.


      ¹ — Criticizing Trump for his obvious failings as both a leader and a human being is not “derangement”, by the by.

      ² — For example: Facebook and Google and such acted in collusion to simultaneously deplatform Alex Jones, even though he had no legal right to use those platforms in the first place and his various bans all happened at different times, without an offer of proof beyond “but I said so”.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 2:39am

        Re:

        Tell the truth, "Stephen" - you're an employee, right? Who puts footnotes in public comments? Are you the "whistleblower", too?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 6:44pm

          you're an employee, right?

          I wish I was, because then I might be getting paid something.

          Who puts footnotes in public comments?

          I do.

          Are you the "whistleblower", too?

          Awww, looks like someone’s got a case of “Facts Derangement Syndrome”!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 8:05am

        Re:

        It is extortion, not censorship.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:30pm

      Re: Where's the "never going to darken your doorstep again?”

      Funny thing bro. You can’t pay people to act as stupid as you are.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:31pm

      Re: The truth will set even your dumb ass free

      Just admit you lied about leaving bro.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      wereisjessicahyde (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:54pm

      Re: Where's the "censorship"? This isn't government.

      Big difference between Facebook deciding what should be on their own platform and the National Inquirer deciding what should be in somebody else's bookshop.

      Side Note: I had no idea this book even existed, thanks lawyers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 4:56pm

        Re: Re: Where's the "censorship"? This isn't government.

        Side Note: I had no idea this book even existed, thanks lawyers.

        The Streisand Effect in action. Thanks Mike & Babs!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 10:21pm

      Re: Where's the "censorship"? This isn't government.

      Or, has your flexible definition caught me out again? Is mere private action of sending a letter "censorship" when upsets YOU?

      No. It's not difficult to see the issue here: a legal threat is a threat to use state action to silence you. The use of defamation laws to silence someone is censorship since it is the government.

      We've been entirely consistent on this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 12:17am

      Re:

      "This isn't government."

      Yes it is, at least partly. The fact that you're too stupid to understand the difference between a private platform policing its own property at its own accord and an entity using legal threats to force the same on others, does not mean there's no difference.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 6:53pm

    • “We have been consulted by Dylan Howard in relation to false and defamatory allegations, which he has been advised and has reason to believe will be included in the above-named book,” the Tweed firm wrote in a Sept. 27 letter to Hive Store Limited, one of the targeted booksellers...

    Only one problem. If the book is true and Howard knows darned well that it's true, sending out a letter like this is itself libel for which both author and publisher would be well within their rights to sue vigorously and aggressively. After all, their livelihood is under attack and real money is involved. It'd be blissfully ironic if his lawyers were sued with him, but that's the risk that goes with sending anything like this to a third party. There's a mess of laws about "libel by omission", "libel by innuendo", "defamation per quod" and the like (depending on jurisdiction) so weasel-wording only gets one so far...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2019 @ 8:08pm

    It's quite incredible for a journalist (especially one working for a publication with as dubious a history as the National Enquirer) to be attacking freedom of speech when it regards reporting about himself.

    I think you mixed up "incredible" and "entirely predictable" in your analysis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 7:52am

    PaulT, you're an IDIOT!

    I love it when you say "the fact that you're too stupid to ...". I love that. Wow. You think calling someone stupid is a way to win an argument. You're a left-wing nut-case like the rest, isn't that right, "PaulT"? Wacko Dacko, as we say in Texas.

    The police are coming for you left wing nutcases, did you hear that? Police. Durham. Grand Jury. The Whole Nine Yards. Coming to a Courtroom Near You Soon!

    I love this country. MAGA 20202.

    Did you see what that major league umpire said? About the gun and impeachment? I LOVE THAT GUY!

    AND I AM NOT ALONE! YAY! EVERYBODY BUY AND GUN AND SPEAK YOUR FUCKING MIND! IT'S AMERICA!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 8:10am

      Re: PaulT, you're an IDIOT!

      [Asserts facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 8:16am

      Re:

      Well, thanks for proving my point.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:13am

      Re: PaulT, you're an IDIOT!

      The only thing missing from this rant from a right-wing nutjob is "AND START SHOOTING PEOPLE OF COLOR!" which is what "MAGA" really means.

      I have nothing against guns or speaking your mind. I do have a problem with extremism and irrational people, particularly those who blindly follow any political party, mindlessly parrot their talking points and automatically discount any opposing views. There is no more vile example of this than the MAGAoids. Need proof? Read the comments section on breitbart sometime. It's a who's who of people who belong behind bars.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 3:39am

        Re: Re: PaulT, you're an IDIOT!

        I can counter with one that is just as vile -- the Left's crusade against self defense in the form of gun control.

        The US system assumes that as you are the most interested in your continued well-being, you will take the necessary action to preserve yourself. This is why police in the US have zero responsibility to protect citizens. Every gun control law takes and takes and takes from the capability of defense, but replaces it with...nothing. No gun control law has ever created even the tiniest responsibility by the government that is taking your means of defense, to defend you.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:59am

      Re: PaulT, you're an IDIOT!

      I see that you will blindly follow your leaders, although the end they wish is to enslave you so that they can acquire even more wealth. The only people that Trump wants to make America great for are his robber baron cronies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 8:42am

    Supplementing what Stephen said, as quoted in the First Word, here's a classic from Popehat:

    Hello! You've Been Referred Here Because You're Wrong About The First Amendment.

    It's not directly applicable since we're not talking about the US, but it supports Stephen's general point that of course suing someone involves using the power of the state. (Look for the second subheader, If you said something like "the First Amendment only stops the government from censoring you so it doesn't apply to this civil case, which is one individual suing another." The bits discussing the First Amendment and US precedent, of course, don't apply directly to the Australian example, but the general point of why civil suits seeking to punish protected speech are a form of government censorship is relevant to any jurisdiction with civil courts.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    waqas4423 (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 7:18am

    You're asking for something impossible.it is not possible

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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