It is a marvel how often the judicial process is hijacked by politics and the media.
The latest example is journalist Chris Kenny’s defamation case against the ABC. The case related to a segment on the Chaser show ‘The Hamster Decides’ that called Kenny a.. erm... dog...snuggler.
It all started when Kenny, a serial critic of the ABC, called for cuts to ABC funding during the last election. The Hamster said (in effect) ‘of course the ABC should get its funding cut when it broadcasts things like THIS...’ and on comes the dogsnuggling. Poor taste? Maybe. But it was sarcastic and satirical. It definitely wasn’t literal. Did anyone really think they were suggesting that Kenny likes dogs a little too much?
Anyway, Kenny sued the ABC for defamation. (Ironic, given that he is also an advocate of free speech.) The ABC defended the claim. It even got part of it struck out by the Court. Game on... Or not.
Enter the politics. The case quickly mutated into a public debate about the ABC’s funding and whether it should spend taxpayer dollars defending the claim. PM Tony Abbott called the claim indefensible, conveniently providing support for ABC funding cuts in the federal budget.
The mainstream media (aka News) were quick to follow suit in criticising the ABC, maybe forgetting that the quickest way to stop the ABC’s spending was for Kenny to drop the case. The result? More media and political support for Kenny’s original claim that the ABC deserved funding cuts. Clever.
In the face of this, there seemed little option for the ABC but to capitulate. It did; settling the claim and running an on-air apology. The Hamster showed no such contrition. For the ABC, it was the second on-air apology to a journalist in as many months. Another free-speech advocate Andrew Bolt received an on-air apology on Q&A after a guest implied he was racist. Interesting that these fearless advocates of our right to free speech are not calling for defamation law reform.
In the Kenny case, politics hijacked the legal proceedings and the merits of the defamation claim went out the window somewhere along the way. Politicians and big media players won the case for him by forcing the ABC to settle.
Abuse of process or stroke of genius? You be the judge.