Sunday, June 17, 2007

Defamation Storm in a Limoncello Oyster Shell

Put away the Casey Donovan CDs, it's not over yet. Despite what you may read in the papers, this week's High Court decision in the Coco Roco limoncello-oyster-car-crash food critic defamation case is just the main course in a drawn out legal saga. Just desserts have yet to be served. The courts will now have to decide whether Evans and Fairfax are protected by a defence like "truth" or "fair comment" (or something like that... I'm no defamation expert). So, for now, there's no need to panic. But if they lose the next round, and you're a food blogger, you should probably hide all your assets behind a nice, thick layer of offshore trusts, or move to Mallorca.

There has never been much argument that a punter reading Matthew Evans' review might conclude that the food was unpalatable (he said most of it was), or that some of the service was bad (ditto). All the High Court said was that it's OK for a bunch of judges to override the jury's opinion that these things were not defamatory (ie, damaging to somebody's reputation), and substitute their own opinion that they were.

The only dissenting view came from Kirby (outnumbered 6:1 unfortunately), who reckoned it was a bad idea for judges to be shoving their culinary opinions down people's throats:

Astonishing as it may seem, judges may occasionally lack a sense of irony or humour. Some may undervalue "free speech" or sometimes even feel hostility to a "free press". In such matters, therefore, there is safety in the numbers of a jury.

Astonishing, indeed.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been a badly (lazily?) reported case in this sense, particularly, if unsurprisingly, in the Fairfax Media. The best and most informative article I've read appeared in The Australian.

17/6/07 15:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting and smart blog!!

19/6/07 01:17  
Blogger courtney said...

Great Blog! As a recent Melbourne transplant from NYC and a brunch lover (, I've been tracing your steps all over town and I agree that Mart 130 is top notch. Have you tried La Citta down in the CBD on Degraves? They make the best bloody marys I have found yet in town. Great French Toast as well.

24/6/07 18:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so relieved!!!! I have been wondering where the outraged have gone – how could freedom of speech end with the proverbial whimper? (OK, I am possibly more upset because it is about food…) I can’t believe that this has not been front page news. The article in The Australian and that boat rocker Kirby offer a glimmer of hope. As an avid reader of reviews/blogs I would be very upset to find myself facing beef with apricots in white sauce because censorship fears had stopped an opinion being expressed…

26/6/07 09:06  
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