Reviews and defamation – Australia’s current case

It’s old news, but for a moment last week newspapers and caf├ęs were abuzz with speculation about the future of restaurant reviewers. A ruling by the High Court of Australia appeared — in media depictions — to establish that a now-defunct Sydney restaurant, Coco Roco, had been defamed by reviewer Matthew Evans of the Sydney Morning Herald.

I expected the food-blogosphere to erupt in outrage, given that many foodbloggers are doing their thing in order to tell cybernauts about their dining experiences. Nix. Nothing. Almost. With the exception of this and this, I haven’t seen other Australian foodblogs mention it. It didn’t even get mentioned in the Australian section of eGullet, despite a previous discussion about reviewing. If you Google relevant terms, you’ll discover that foreign media, forums and blogs have been rather more interested.

I can’t help but wonder just what Aussie review-genre foodbloggers are in it for.

As it happens, last week’s ruling is far from earth-shattering, being but one more step in the case. Wait until the outcome of further legal process in the New South Wales Supreme Court, where the newspaper will actually defend itself. A final negative outcome for the newspaper would have considerable implications for all who review — bloggers who review are of course open to litigation too. If you want to read more about the general issue of litigation and restaurant reviews, see this at cearta.ie.

– DM

UPDATE: I had overlooked this clear description of the case on eat-melbourne and (at last!) some online discussion.

6 thoughts on “Reviews and defamation – Australia’s current case”

  1. And yet it continues. Last week I read about Whirlpool now being potentially sued by 2Clix as people have been writing negative comments about their software on Whirlpool’s forums. It seems to have become commonplace in Australia – don’t like what people have to say about your business online? Then sue! Apparently in the US they have a law that was passed just a few years ago to protect websites – perhaps Australia needs to introduce something similar – and fast! Freedom of speech is going to fast become a luxury rather than a right in this country. http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22405674-2,00.html

  2. I guess there are two sides to this. (1) Suing to suppress (truthful) negative commentary, and (2) suing after malicious commentary. Because restaurant/food reviewing is so frequently influenced by personal preference and often worded to shock, it’s easier for an offended party to feel they are justified in suing (2). There’s much more potential subjectivity/bias in food reviewing than in the Whirlpool case, where the commentary seems to have been of the ‘this doesn’t function’ kind. On the face of it, 2Clix might well be attempting (1).

    Nonetheless, we can’t forget that the internet is crawling with people who seek to abuse and disparage others (either as so-called trolls or people who can’t engage in rational discussion). Freedom of speech is easily abused by these people.

    Just as an aside, Australians don’t have an explicit right to freedom of speech, as far as I know. All assumptions of such freedoms come from the courts, which have at times decided there are implied rights in the constitution.

    I haven’t heard of the law in the US that you mention, Goldie. I believe that some jurisdictions protect ISPs from being sued for content hosted on their sites.

  3. Thanks for the info – it will be interesting to see how both the Whirlpool and the above mentioned Coco Roco court case will pan out. I’ll keep an eye on your site in case you find out the results from either case!

  4. Thanks for the update Duncan. Really it was inevitable that 2Clix would end up the loser with a damaged repuation after trying to sue Whirlpool.
    I think people now are so used to posting their thought and opinions on everything from books on Amazon to computers, cars etc- basically there’s forums, blogs and review sites all over the web with people posting their opinions both positive and negative. Anyway now to see how the restaurant review case pans out!

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