The matter of Fairfax Media, Nationwide News and Australian News Channel against Dylan Voller made its way up to the High Court of Australia on Tuesday 18 May.
Almost four years since Mr Voller filed his defamation claim against the media companies, the full bench of the High Court heard the matter.
In legal speak, this isn’t even the *actual* trial where Dylan would receive damages if the court found in his favour, it’s just a preliminary issue.
Publisher or not a publisher?
The law of defamation is extremely complex, which is why the legal costs are so expensive. They often require at least one expert Barrister.
The main issue on appeal is what amounts to ‘publication’ in the law of defamation. Mr Voller argues that you don’t require an intention to publish defamatory materials. The other parties are arguing that intention is required, or that there needs to be a distinction between a publisher and a disseminator.
Mr Voller originally filed the matter in the Supreme Court of New South Wales which determined the issue in his favour. The media companies appealed the matter and then the New South Wales Court of Appeal heard the matter and once again found in Mr Voller’s favour. The matter sat before the High Court yesterday with all seven Justices: Keifel CJ, Geagler J, Keane J, Gordon J, Edelman J, Steward J, and Gleeson J.
Four and a half hours of submissions concluded the last avenue of appeal for the media companies on this preliminary issue.
The original defamation action of Facebook comments
Mr Voller first took action against the media companies following comments on the media companies Facebook page.
Posts were made on the Facebook pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Sky News, The Bolt Report and The Centralian Advocate, which Mr Voller argues the defendants should have known there was a “significant risk of defamatory observations” after posting, partly due to the nature of the articles. He said the organisations could have chosen to monitor or hide the comments.
The comments carried the allegedly false statements that Mr Voller had “committed heinous offences for which he was never accused.
Mr Voller said he had “been subjected to hatred, ridicule and contempt” and had “suffered and continues to suffer distress and damage to his reputation”.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rothman ruled the media organisations should be considered publishers of the third-party comments and were therefore liable for them.
“Each defendant was not merely a conduit of the comment,” he said in his judgment.