Alice Springs News loses defamation case

The Supreme Court this morning decided in favour of David Forrest, a principal of Framptons First National Real Estate, who brought a defamation action against Alice Springs News Managing Editor, Erwin Chlanda, and the publishing company, Erwin Chlanda Pty Ltd.
The decision is in the sum of $100,000 plus interest. The issue of costs is yet to be decided.
The action arose from one article that was part of news coverage over a period of more than a year, of a situation affecting some 12 local families, home buyers, clients of the Framptons New Homes scheme and collapsed building company, Carey Builders Pty Ltd.  The home buyers suffered significant financial losses and anguish.
This is not the end of the story but at this time I make the following statement:-
It is the first time in my half century working as a journalist that I have had to stand trial for defamation.
The arduous experience of conducting my defence without legal representation, and with a minimum of legal advice, is motivating me to do as much as I can to get behind the current push for reform of the way our society deals with defamation.
The present system is a great impediment to freedom of speech.
There is a vast gulf between what the law and the courts can demand, and what the readers expect from us, the journalists, and our duty to inform.
Rich people are vastly more likely to win than poor people. They can set on to journalists and publishers, lawyers receiving extraordinary levels of remuneration in a rigid court process that can result in the ruin of a medium and its staff.
With the recent Finkelstein Review, these issues are well and truly in the public arena nation-wide.
This case cost my wife and colleague Kieran Finnane, our family and myself not only the small amount of money we could afford for limited legal advice, but more than a year of sustained effort and anxiety.
We will be doing our best to assist reform efforts that will serve our readers, the people we write about and our profession.
The Alice Springs News Online will continue publication and maintain its five million word (and growing) online story archive dating back to 1997. (The hard copy archive dates back to 1994.)
Erwin Chlanda, Editor

 

See also prominent author Barry Hill’s comment on how the loss needs to be put in context.

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11 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Kevin
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Sorry to hear you lost against the big guys, but that’s the way the world turns around: The ones who have money nearly always win over the ones who do not.
    At least you had a go – unlike papers who are so scared of their own shadow and to whom the advertising dollar is what’s important.
    Some locals may knock the Alice Springs News, but I say “no business is perfect” – least of all newspapers that rely on what other people have to say, to fill up the space between the adverts.

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  2. Albert Diano
    Posted March 15, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Dear Erwin, Kieran and family,
    I offer my support to you for standing up for what you believe in, “freedom of speech”. Your paper has done many good things for Alice Springs. In this case, the Law does not protect the affected local families, home buyers, clients of collapsed building companies. The cause of why the home buyers suffered significant financial losses and anguish will never be revealed.
    Unfortunately our system works only for the rich, who can dictate the terms, and the poor who rely on social services. If you are in between you have a long fight ahead.

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  3. Posted March 13, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Erwin, I’m so sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you and your family and the people you defended in your now famous series of articles.
    Keep up the good work! I still read the Alice Springs News every week, although I live in NSW now.
    Freedom of Press rules!
    Suzanne Visser

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  4. Jose Petrick
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Hi Erwin, Kieran and family, I am so grieved to read the court’s decision and agree with everything said by Domenico Pecorari, Russell Guy, Hal Duell, Murray and Brigida Stewart and John Stafford. Since working with you at The Advocate from 1976-78 I have always admired your forthrightness, ability to ferret out the truth and the courage to publish it.

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  5. John Stafford
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Erwin. I would like to echo Murray and Brigida’s sentiments. Your support for the people caught up in the mess that was Frampton’s New Homes was greatly appreciated by the dozen plus families that lost considerable savings and more. It is also shameful that the penalty you pay heads in the same direction as a portion of the money these families lost.

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  6. Murray and Brigida Stewart
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Erwin and Kieran,
    Remember yesterday’s judgement was only a judgement at law. The moral condemnation falls with those who brought this case in the first place. You went in to battle for the battlers now it is time for us to go into battle for you. We should not stand aside and see your family hurt any further. To the party who no doubt uncorked a bottle of champagne last night, you may like to spare a thought for the unfortunate families who still are unable to properly furnish their Carey homes or who can’t even buy decent curtains for their windows. I think of one party in particular who has had to borrow against their superannuation just to survive. With these thoughts in mind, I would invite people who echo this thinking to contact me (Murray) so we can begin the process of righting the unjust: Tel 0407 256 428 or email bridgeovermurray@bigpond.com

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  7. Hal Duell
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Erwin and Kieran,
    We would be a poorer and blander community without the Alice Springs News. You add spice to our diet, never more so than since you went on-line.
    Long may you publish – or I guess that’s now post.
    Hal

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  8. Ralph Folds
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Yes legals are very expensive Erwin, but it’s not all bad. Think of all the people who may have considered taking you to court over the years but couldn’t afford it.
    [ED – Exactly who?]

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  9. John Barnes
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Spare the pity, you defamed someone, you published an untruth. You chose to represent yourself and you still believe you are the victim. It may be the first time in 50 years you have come across someone with the balls and capacity to take you on and take the risk of following the matter through. I am sure there are a few people at the Institute of Aboriginal Development (IAD) who would have liked to have had the money to take you on.
    Stop your bleating, accept you were in the wrong and get on with life. Everyone makes mistakes, but only a few are man enough to put their hand up and admit it.

    [ED – Mr Barnes is invited to explain what he is talking about in relation to IAD. We always seek to report all sides of a story and to offer right of reply. Our pages are and always have been open to reader comment, including comment critical of our performance. It is up to readers to avail themselves of these opportunities, and plenty of them do. We have also extensively covered the productions of the IAD’s publishing arm.]

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  10. Russell Guy
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Dear Erwin, Kieran and family,
    I empathise with you at this time. The law can defeat many attempts to gain justice, often because it requires so much money to sustain a case. Knowing some of the background to the story which initiated this action, I offer my solidarity to you and your staff.
    The Alice Springs News is a leading light in the dissemination of mainstream and non-mainstream news, both of which inform a society which believes itself civilised. We need to be more vigilant than ever about our right to free speech. It is often the only measure by which the vulnerable can be protected.
    The Finkelstein Report is an attack on this right and I’m sure that your masthead is an affront to many, but as the fundamental right to freedom of religion is also under attack, I’m not surprised. George Orwell was never more relevant. Long may your pursuit of integrity be upheld.

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  11. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Erwin. I’m very sorry to read of the court’s decision and write to express my support to you, Kieran, and your family, after what must have been a harrowing year. I am glad, however, that you plan to continue publishing online. The Alice Springs News supports and gives voice to many individual members of our community, as you and Kieran engage in real investigative journalism, confronting some of our town’s darker issues that others prefer remain covered over. The quote under your paper’s banner, attributed to the Chicago Tribune, has never been more relevant.

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