Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this case, what it illustrates is that what proves later to be an unfortunate or hasty tweet can become an expensive exercise.
This is nothing new. Many a book has had to be pulped by a publisher either before or after a court case, where a set of words was shown to have been in some way defamatory or that they were shown to have been less than the whole truth or even implied such.
It's a tricky business in any such public format – Email, Internet, Blog, Tweets, Flyer, Book, Magazine, Newspaper – whereby someone feels wounded to the heart.
Moreover outcomes can be unpredictable. It might cost you your house, or your reputation, possibly your job, becoming in effect unemployable, being deemed a serious risk, never again allowed such public responsibility, losing your marriage and family … there is much at stake.
On the other hand, as Edward Barton noted in the 17th century, that when good men do nothing, evil prevails. Therefore there are times that demand great courage to speak out and one of the reasons why our Parliamentarians have the legal freedom in speak in the Parliament without fear of prosecution.
What we see here is a balancing act. Major publishers have lawyers on tap who specialise in this area, whereby the fine line between 'comment' and 'defamation' is carefully gauged. Long drawn out expensive court cases have resulted over such matters.
Now, it may not matter in the great scheme of things where neighbours or friends fall-out and something untoward is written in the public space, but for those feel they have been targeted unfairly and an adversarial team of lawyers who only get paid if they win, the stakes can soon get out of hand.
Costly in many ways
In recent months we've seen this reported across the nation with well healed neighbours fighting it out in the courts let alone the politicians whose every word is carefully assessed in this growing litigious arena. Recently, a judge criticised a litigate who refused to settle and ended up with much less than the offered settlement and that entire amount was gobbled up in legal fees,
There is much more besides. A tweet is restricted to a specific number of words. How anyone one of us might couch those words is the critical factor. The lesson is to be very careful what you tweet.
Comment is nonetheless protected. Every commentator in whatever forum they use, whether that is a newspaper, on-line news, magazine, blog, whatever …. is necessarily able and legitimate to 'comment' on whatever the subject matter.
Comment is not only essential to democracy, it is the life blood of a fair and free society and therefore many a lawyer has advised a client that 'Comment' is both fair and legitimate in a robust liberal society.
There is nonetheless a fine line between all these issues and hence the need to carefully analyse what is written. The major city newspapers have key note Comment writers who specialise in such matters and for any would be Comment writer, it might not be such a bad idea to start reading these writers who put together articles that carefully spell out the unfolding drama. They are poignant reading and politicians ignores them at their peril.
In my many years of writing a daily Comment article for Christian Today Australia, there have been several key ingredients to which I have followed. These are:
Ensure the subject is in the public domain (news sites)
Cite proven authorities in the field under discussion
Acknowledge previous published articles
Highlight the real issue, sometimes previously hidden or understated
Make the point with validity
Leave the reader with more questions than answers
My articles are often dealing with issues initially raised 6-8 weeks previously, and this is often a good idea as other information pops up during that intervening period which was hidden before hand, and which either adds to the Comment and gives opportunity to reassess the original line.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at