Friday, December 18, 2009

A victory for the right to express an opinion

Owners of defunct Sydney restaurant lose defamation case against food critic. Sadly, such cases are not always won by the critic

THE owners of a now defunct Sydney restaurant have lost their defamation case over a food critic's bad review. Aleksandra Gacic, her sister Ljiljana Gacic and Branislav Ciric sued publisher John Fairfax and critic Matthew Evans over the review of their restaurant Coco Roco at Sydney's King Street Wharf.

In September 2003, the Sydney Morning Herald published a review referring to "unpalatable'' dishes, describing the restaurant's overall value as "a shocker'' and scoring it 9/20 - in the "stay home'' category. The restaurant went into administration in March 2004.

The article was found to have conveyed three defamatory meanings. Firstly, that it sold some unpalatable food, secondly, that it provided some bad service, and thirdly, that the trio were incompetent restaurant owners because they employed a chef who made poor quality food.

In the NSW Supreme Court on Friday, Justice Ian Harrison delivered a verdict for the publisher and Mr Evans, ordering the trio to pay their legal costs. He found the defence of comment had been established in relation to the three meanings. He also found the defence of truth had been established in relation to some bad service.


Net filters 'thin end of the wedge': Kirby

I don't agree with Justice Kirby often but I do on this one

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has criticised the Federal Government's internet censorship agenda, saying it could stop the "Berlin Walls of the future" from being knocked down.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, announced he would introduce legislation before next year's elections forcing ISPs to block a secret blacklist of "refused classification" (RC) websites for all Australian internet users. Most experts agree that Conroy's policy will not result in any meaningful dent in the availability of harmful internet content, will create significant freedom of speech issues and will be prone to abuse by politicians.

Almost 20,000 people have voted in a Fairfax Media poll on internet censorship and 96 per cent of respondents oppose the filters, which the Government itself has admitted could be easily bypassed and do not cover peer-to-peer, instant messaging or other communications protocols. Nearly 120,000 Australians signed a petition against internet censorship by online activist group GetUp.

In an interview with Fairfax Radio this morning, Kirby said some circles feared the controversial policy would be "the thin end of the wedge of the Government moving in to regulating the actual internet itself". "Once you start doing that you get into the situation of Burma and Iran where the Government is taking control of what people hear and what information they get," he said, adding that Australia's approach hadn't been attempted anywhere else in the world.

Google has also entered the debate, saying yesterday the scope of the content to be filtered went too far beyond child pornography and that the "heavy handed" approach would restrict freedom of expression. "Refused Classification (or RC) is a broad category of content that includes not just child sexual abuse material but also socially and politically controversial material - for example, educational content on safer drug use - as well as the grey realms of material instructing in any crime, including politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia," Google Australia's head of policy, Iarla Flynn, said. "This type of content may be unpleasant and unpalatable but we believe that government should not have the right to block information which can inform debate of controversial issues."

Kirby and Google's concerns mirror that of Sydney University Associate Professor Bjorn Landfeldt, who said yesterday that there was no clear definition of "refused classification" and the goalposts dictating what content is prohibited could be substantially widened in future. Already, the refused classification category includes a significant proportion of legal material such as regular gay and straight porn sites, fetish sites, euthanasia material and innocuous sites that have been mistakenly prohibited.

"It was through 'public complaints mechanisms' like the one Conroy is proposing, that classic literature such as The Catcher in the Rye, Ulysses and The Story of the Kelly Gang were once banned in Australia," GetUp said.

Landfeldt also criticised the pilot trial report used by the Government to justify the policy, saying the trials were designed to succeed from the outset, presented no new information and were now being used by the Government to further its political agenda.

The Government has said 15 other Western democracies have implemented the same filtering plan but most of the other countries have made the scheme voluntary for ISPs and the blacklisted content is limited to child pornography. "Australia's proposed regime would uniquely combine a mandatory framework and a much wider scope of content, the first of its kind in the democratic world," Flynn said.

In a phone interview, Flynn said it was too early to say what effect the filters would have on Google's services but "if you were to look at YouTube today and ask: 'Is there material on YouTube which could be considered refused classification?', the answer would have to be 'yes' ".

Conroy's policy has attracted significant ridicule from international commentators and media, with news headlines such as "Australia plans Chinese-style internet filtering" and "Joining China and Iran, Australia to filter internet" appearing on the and FOXNews websites.


Corporate watchdog bites the dust yet again

They're absolutely brainless. Can't they find something useful to do?

WESTPAC has thwarted the corporate watchdog's attempt to stop it issuing 900,000 new debit cards to customers who did not ask for one. The Federal Court yesterday declared the bank had acted lawfully when it began sending customers unsolicited Mastercard debit cards to replace their existing Handycard debit cards, The Australian reports.

Westpac stopped the rollout in May after the Australian Securities & Investments Commission expressed concern that the bank's actions contravened the ASIC Act. The case hinged on whether Westpac had breached section 12DL of the act, which says a person may not be sent an unsolicited credit or debit card unless the card is a replacement for "a card of the same kind".

It was the first time that section of the act had been considered by a court and opens the way for other banks to follow Westpac's lead. ASIC argued in court that the new debit card was not the same kind of card under the meaning of the act because it could be used more freely. In particular, the debit card, unlike the Handycard, did not require a PIN and could be used over the phone or internet.

But judge Steven Rares found withdrawing funds from a customer's account was the defining characteristic of both cards. "It was not the intention of the act to constrain the relationship between an issuer of a card and its customer by preventing the issuer updating the particular kind of card with the latest version of that kind of card," he wrote in his judgment.

ASIC said yesterday it was considering the judgment and whether to appeal. A Westpac spokeswoman said most customers sent the replacement card were happy with the extra features.


School principals win right to expel problem students

PRINCIPALS will be given new powers to expel problem students following hundreds of violent attacks in Queensland classrooms in the past year. The details of the incidents, including sex acts, alcohol and drug abuse, bomb threats and arson, have been obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws. A special needs student was tied up and dragged around by the feet, some students were knocked unconscious, threatened with knives and a suspected gun, pushed out of windows or bashed with chairs. A teacher was bitten by a student and left bleeding.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson said that, from next year, principals would be able to expel students instead of having to get permission from an Education Queensland district boss. "I'm appalled by the behaviour that's been reported to me," he said. "The rights of students . . . to a positive learning environment must come ahead of the right of any individual student."

Mr Wilson said exclusions were increasing and that he supported "tough action against unacceptable behaviour". More than 1200 students were up for expulsion or cancellation of enrolment in the past financial year.

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations president Margaret Black said greater principal powers needed to be combined with discipline at home to fully address increasing violence "across the board".

Students as young as six are up for expulsion from state schools for violent, illegal or inappropriate behaviour. Queensland Government figures show five of more than 800 recommendations for exclusion in the past year related to year 1 students. It was recommended another 383 students have their enrolments cancelled, which can only occur if they are at least 16 years old. Year 9 and 10 students accounted for more than half of the 864 incidents, which resulted in an attempt by the principal to have them permanently removed.

Education Queensland documents released to The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws revealed a three-month snapshot of violent, illegal and immoral behaviour at state schools where more than 120 students faced expulsion. The majority of cases, which occurred between July 13 and September 14 this year, related to physical misconduct, including several assaults on teachers where they or their property has been damaged.

In one incident, a teacher was bitten and left bleeding after intervening in a student assault. "I saw (name omitted) holding another student in a headlock," the teacher said. "I instructed him to let go . . . when (he) let go (he) appeared very aggressive. "I stood in front of (him) and advised that he could not go anywhere until he calmed down. "At this point (he) bit my arm in an attempt to escape."

In a statement, Assistant Director-General of students services Patrea Walton said Education Queensland had hired bullying expert Dr Ken Rigby to investigate strategies to address the problem. "The increase in the number of students suspended or recommended for exclusion from Queensland state schools reflects Education Queensland's tough stance on unacceptable behaviour," she said. "It is not in any school's interests to keep badly behaved students in the classroom disrupting the learning of others."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said increased violence was a reflection of society. "In terms of general assaults, that's on the increase in the community as well – schools are dealing with that and generally speaking that's why the numbers are increasing in terms of schools taking action," he said.


Barnaby blasts official art

Most Australians will agree with him. It's mainly an arty-farty "elite" who go in for such crap

POLITICIAN Barnaby Joyce has turned art critic, saying sculptures at Canberra's Parliament House look like they were created by a couple of drunken men. The Queenslander, who was recently appointed as Opposition finance spokesman, ridiculed some sculptures as nothing more than a curiosity for "durrie munchers", and described one as an aerial and another as Mr Squiggle's last stand.

He said he had "no problem" with some sculptures but said there was one in every corner. "There's one (sculpture in the building), a piece of steel with a chain that looks like it could have been welded together by a few blokes from Taroom on the turps," Senator Joyce said. "Some of the stuff looks like it's been put together by my three-year-old daughter."

But Senator Joyce's art appraisal has angered Arts Minister Peter Garrett. "As with most things, thankfully not all of it has to appeal to Barnaby to earn its artistic credentials," Mr Garrett said. "Senator Joyce is morphing into the Sir Les Patterson of modern day politics, only without the satirical edge. "Not content being the extremist in chief on climate change we now have Barnaby Joyce appointing himself the nation's cultural attache.

"Australian artists produce an enormous variety of work across a range of mediums [The plural is "media", Peter. Mediums hold seances], to great acclaim both at home and abroad and many are featured in the nation's Parliament for staff, MPs and visitors to share and experience."

Senator Joyce's no-nonsense attack comes as Canberra's Parliamentary Services Department cuts back on the amount of shrubs and plants it hires to adorn the building, in a bid to save taxpayers $120,000 a year. Senator Joyce said the money forked out for art could be spent on repairing a leaking roof at Parliament House or keeping some of the hired trees and shrubs from being sent back to contractors. He said if they were desperate they should sell some of the art.

Greenery has been hired since Parliament House opened in 1988.


1 comment:

Paul said...

I wonder how much Conroy is being paid to betray his people? Obama and Gordon Brown and other assorted globalist criminals and traitors are watching this with interest.