Australia media firms join fight against Rebel Wilson’s record $3.6 million defamation payout

The Supreme Court of Victoria found that Rebel Wilson missed out on Hollywood roles as a result of a string of articles published by German magazine publisher Bauer Media. (Reuters)
Updated 26 February 2018

Australia media firms join fight against Rebel Wilson’s record $3.6 million defamation payout

SYDNEY: Australian media companies on Monday sought to join German magazine publisher Bauer Media in fighting a record A$4.56 million ($3.6 million) defamation payout to Hollywood actress Rebel Wilson, arguing it set a dangerous precedent.
The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, Fairfax Media Ltd, Seven West Media Ltd. and Nine Entertainment Co. Holdings Ltd. and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. filed a joint motion to “intervene” in the case, a lawyer representing the companies said.
The move is a rare show of unity in an industry increasingly divided along political lines. In 2017, a court awarded the “Pitch Perfect” Sydney-born star the country’s highest defamation payout, smashing the A$389,000 maximum, by using the actress’s global reach to justify a “special” damages payment.
The Supreme Court of Victoria found that Wilson missed out on Hollywood roles as a result of a string of articles published by Bauer which claimed Wilson lied about her age, real name and some childhood events, even after it knew the allegations were false.
In Australian law, companies are allowed to seek permission to intervene in a case if they believe the outcome affects their business directly. If allowed, they get to argue their case, separate from the plaintiff and the defendant, during a hearing.
“The concern is that Justice (John) Dixon (of the Supreme Court of Victoria) found that where aggravated damages are awarded, the damages cap no longer applies,” said Justin Quill from Macpherson Kelley Lawyers, representing the media companies.
“This sets a precedent because if someone has an aggravated damages claim then they can be given unlimited damages – the sky is the limit,” he added.
Wilson’s lawyer did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Bauer wasn’t “surprised to see Australia’s largest media organizations supporting its position in relation to the cap on defamation damages,” its general counsel, Adrian Goss, said in an email.
“That aspect of the court’s decision has significant consequences for all media,” Goss added.
Australian media companies routinely intervene in cases when they want to overturn suppression orders, but rarely in matters concerning defamation.
Bauer’s appeal against the Wilson payout begins on April 18.


What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

Updated 22 August 2019

What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

  • Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content
  • Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays content from users
NEW YORK: Facebook’s plan to hire professional journalists instead of relying solely on algorithms to deliver news is a positive step but is unlikely to shake up an embattled media industry, analysts say.
The social media giant said Tuesday it would build a small team of journalists to select the top national news of the day “to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”
It comes as the US media landscape is plagued by job losses and newspaper closures, with organizations trying to figure out how to record profits in the age of free news.
Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays updates and content from users’ friends and relatives.
“In theory I see this as a really positive development. It is something quite promising,” Danna Young, a communications professor at the University of Delaware, told AFP.
Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content.
The California-based company has consistently said it does not want to be considered a media organization that makes major editorial decisions, and this announcement does little to change that, experts add.
“It’s not transformative because it’s not going to change necessarily the behavior of individuals who are referencing stories on their feeds,” said Young.
“That’s where the power comes from — individuals you know and trust putting their tacit stamp of approval on stories by sharing them,” she added.

"Trending topics" scandal
The tab will be the site’s first news feature using human moderators since it shut down its ill-fated “trending topics” section last year after a scandal over allegations workers had suppressed stories about conservative issues.
Articles not deemed top news stories will still be collated using algorithms based on the user’s history, such as pages they follow, publications they subscribe to and news they have already interacted with.
“Our goal with the news tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Facebook head of news partnerships Campbell Brown told AFP in San Francisco Tuesday.
The news tab feature comes as Facebook embarks on a series of initiatives to boost journalism, with traditional media organizations accusing it of benefitting financially from their hard work.
Internet platforms are dominating the Internet advertising space making it difficult for established news organizations to transition what were very profitable print advertisements online.
Facebook announced in January that it will invest $300 million over three years to support journalism, particularly local news organizations.
It has also funded fact-checking projects around the world, including one in partnership with AFP.
Facebook will reportedly pay some publishers to license news content for the tab but Mathew Ingram, who writes about digital media for the Columbia Journalism Review, doesn’t expect that to trickle down to hard-up organizations that need it the most.
“The companies they are going to choose are ones already doing well I assume. It might give them a little extra cash but I don’t see it driving a huge amount of traffic,” he told AFP.

In free fall
Print journalism in the US is in free-fall as social media overtakes newspapers as the main news source for Americans.
Around 2,000 American newspapers closed in the past 15 years, according to the University of North Carolina, leaving millions of residents without reporters keeping track of what their local authorities are up to.
“The death of local news has such destructive effects for democracy. It’s a complex issue that Facebook alone cannot fix,” said Young.
The number of journalists working at US newspapers slumped by 47 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last year.
The total number of journalists in newsrooms fell by 25 percent, the group found, while consultancy firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says this is going to be the worst year for layoffs since 2009.
It’s a difficult time for Stephen Groves, who recently earned a master’s in journalism at New York University, to be looking for work. When he heard about Facebook’s plans, he was skeptical.
“Facebook is not a journalism company and so before working for Facebook I would want to see their commitment to ethical, robust journalism,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
The digital sector is also in trouble.
When Buzzfeed cut 200 jobs in January, 29-year-old Emily Tamkin was let go from a position she had held for just a few months.
“I’m personally not cheered by the fact that Facebook is swooping in and hiring journalists. If that’s the silver lining then we have a very big cloud here,” she told AFP.