Aussie Censorship In Action: National Enquirer Editor Threats Get Bookstores To Block Sale Of Ronan Farrow Book
We've covered a few times in the past some of the oddities of both Australia's defamation laws and its views on intermediary liability. Our big complaint regarding both of those things is how they end up enabling censorship by the powerful of critical reporting and commentary. Perhaps a perfect example of this is former National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard having some pricey lawyers threaten Australian booksellers if they decided to offer Ronan Farrow's new book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. If you haven't guessed, a part of Farrow's book covers efforts by the Enquirer to "get dirt" on certain people in what appears to be an attempt to suppress their credibility or ability to go public, and also to engage in the practice of "catch and kill" (from whence the book gets its title) a story by "buying" the exclusive rights to it, only to kill it.It appears that some of those threats have worked, as a number of booksellers have chosen not to sell the book (though some others, admittedly, are still offering it for sale). Of course, the threat letter to the various book retailers has some weasel wording, allowing Howard and his lawyers to pretend that they're not trying to seek the blocking of the book:
We have been consulted by Dylan Howard in relation to false and defamatory allegations, which he has been advised and has reason to believe will be included in the above-named book, the Tweed firm wrote in a Sept. 27 letter to Hive Store Limited, one of the targeted booksellers (which sources say also include Britain's W.H. Smith and Wordery chains).We have put the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group Limited on notice that, if the offending content is included in the book, we are instructed to take such legal action as may be appropriate, the letter continued.The letter concluded: You are now on notice under UK and Irish defamation laws of the potential defamatory content within the said book. We would therefore urge you to satisfy yourselves that the offending references to our client have been removed prior to distribution by your company.See if you can spot the weasel words. There are a lot of conditional statements, basically saying that "if" there's defamatory content in the book, then the booksellers will be "on notice," and (so the letter claims) potentially liable. As the Daily Beast article linked above notes, Howard has previously sued other media properties to stop them from covering news about himself:
Howard and American Media sought court orders restraining the broadcaster from airing footage obtained in the lobby of the publisher's New York headquarters on March 7 this year and requiring Channel Nine to hand over the allegedly "improperly obtained material" for destruction.It's quite incredible for a journalist (especially one working for a publication with as dubious a history as the National Enquirer) to be attacking freedom of speech when it regards reporting about himself.