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Thursday, April 13, 2006

New defamation laws and rights to privacy

ABC’s Media Watch program this week included a discussion “Truth, defamation and privacy” about the implications that may arise from the commencement of uniform defamation laws across the country. The focus was the effect of the change (in NSW and some other jurisdictions) to the truth defence which no longer requires consideration whether publication was in the public interest.

The consensus seems to be that the media (and others) will be less constrained, but that this will give rise to claims regarding breach of privacy, particularly from celebrities. So far Australian courts have largely rejected claims for damages on the grounds of breach of privacy saying that the law does not recognise such a common law right.

These issues were also discussed on today’s Media Report on Radio National.

Uniform (or nearly uniform) defamation laws have been in effect since 1 January 2006. There are other important changes to the law in the NSW Defamation Act. This summary from MinterEllison highlights key points.

Defamation seems to be an issue in local councils particularly concerns regarding what is said in public meetings, and what might be included in submissions, complaints and objections received. The new provisions as they relate to defences should be of particular interest. Apart from truth, defences regarding contextual truth, publication of public documents, and “reports of proceedings in public of a local government body” should all be of interest to the local government sector.

The full text of the Defamation Act 2005 is available in the InForce data base at this site.

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