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CNN denies Australians access to its Facebook pages, cites defamation risk

Stock Markets Sep 29, 2021 06:22AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration photo taken in Bordeaux, France, on February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo 2/2
 
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By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) -CNN said it is preventing Australians from accessing its Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) pages after a court ruled that publishers can be liable for defamation in public comment sections and the social media firm refused to help it disable comments in the country.

The move makes CNN, which is owned by AT&T Inc (NYSE:T), the first major news organisation to pull its Facebook presence in Australia since the country's highest court ruled this month that publishers were legally responsible for comments posted below articles - even if the articles themselves were not defamatory.

The ruling has come under much fire with defamation lawyers accusing Australia of not keeping up with technological change and noting the contrast with the United States and Britain where laws largely protect publishers from any fallout from comments posted online.

Australia is currently reviewing its defamation laws but in the meantime, other global news organisations, especially those that feel they can easily live without an Australian Facebook audience, are likely to follow CNN's lead, the lawyers said.

"This is the first domino to fall," said Michael Bradley, managing partner of Marque Lawyers.

For Australian media companies, the ruling also adds a layer of complication to their relationship with Facebook, just as many of them begin to benefit from a new law https://www.reuters.com/article/australia-media-defamation-idTRNIKBN2G40VZ that forces the social media company to pay for links to their content.

CNN's main Facebook page showed an error message when accessed from Australia on Wednesday. The U.S. news organisation said Facebook declined a request to help it and other publishers disable public comments in the country following the ruling https://www.reuters.com/article/australia-media-defamation-idTRNIKBN2G40VZ, which was made during an ongoing defamation lawsuit.

"We are disappointed that Facebook, once again, has failed to ensure its platform is a place for credible journalism and productive dialogue around current events among its users," a CNN spokeswoman said in a statement.

A Facebook spokesperson said recent court decisions had shown the need for reform in Australian defamation law and the company looked forward to "greater clarity and certainty in this area".

"While it's not our place to provide legal guidance to CNN, we have provided them with the latest information on tools we make available to help publishers manage comments," the spokesperson said.

'OUTLIER'

As in most of the world, social media is a central channel for distributing content in Australia and about two-thirds of its population of 25 million are on Facebook. About a third of Australians said they used Facebook to source news, a University of Canberra survey taken at the start of 2021 showed.

But there has also been an explosion in defamation lawsuits, and state and federal chief lawyers are conducting a wide-ranging review into whether existing rules are appropriate for the internet age, and whether the rules fairly take into account whether or not a person has been harmed.

In a submission to that review in May, an industry group representing Facebook and other internet platforms said liability for defamation should remain with content "originators" since they could more easily monitor and delete offending content.

Mark Speakman, the attorney general for the state of New South Wales who is working on the review, said resolving the question of liability in online forums was a priority.

"Getting the balance right on any reform is crucial to balancing freedom of expression with the right of a person to protect their reputation," he said in an email.

Matt Collins, a prominent defamation lawyer, said CNN's decision showed the importance of aligning Australian law with the United States and Britain.

"Australia is among Western democracies an outlier, in relation to the circumstances in which media organisations and any user of social media can be liable for content they didn't they themselves write or approve of," he said.

CNN denies Australians access to its Facebook pages, cites defamation risk
 

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Comments (5)
Thomas Colton
Thomas Colton Sep 29, 2021 6:51AM ET
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I love watching cnn beg for help after being the main push for exactly this. Karma strikes again
Jack Bquick
Jack Bquick Sep 29, 2021 5:06AM ET
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All CNN should be banned from every country. No one likes them anymore.
marcus daily
marcus daily Sep 29, 2021 2:47AM ET
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Lol, they said, cnn and “credible journalism” in the same sentence.
James White
James White Sep 29, 2021 1:47AM ET
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good news!
Felipe Daniel
Felipe Daniel Sep 28, 2021 11:36PM ET
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CNN does not want to be held liable for their comments, would not be a problem if they did accurate reporting, this move shows CNN does not stand by their reporting
 
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