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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  1. 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.)


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