The case of an outspoken China critic being sued by a former SBS journalist over his tweets may contain parallels to former youth detainee Dylan Voller’s win over media outlets found liable for disparaging Facebook comments about him, a court has ben told.
Geoffrey Wade, a researcher in the federal parliamentary library and prolific tweeter about China, is being sued for defamation and copyright infringement by journalist Marcus Reubenstein, who runs the website APAC News.
Mr Reubenstein alleges Mr Wade falsely portrayed him as a “mouthpiece” for the Chinese Communist Party who engaged in unlawful foreign interference and whose website reports fake news.
He also claims Mr Wade is liable for responses to his tweets from other people because he took “no action” to delete the posts and allowed the replies to be seen by other Twitter users.
During a short hearing on Thursday morning, Mr Wade’s lawyer Nathan Li said he anticipated Mr Voller’s case would come up in discussions about whether Mr Wade could be held liable for other people’s tweets.
Mr Voller rose to prominence when he was depicted in a spit hood in a Four Corners story about mistreatment in youth detention centres in the Northern Territory.
He later sued media outlets (including Nationwide News, the publisher of NCA NewsWire) for defamation over comments written by the public on Facebook posts sharing stories about him.
The outlets were found to be publishers of the comments left by other users on their Facebook pages. The ruling, which only pertained to Facebook comments, has been appealed to the High Court with a decision pending.
Mr Li also said Mr Wade may file a cross claim in the matter and was asked by Justice Michael Lee what it would be about.
“If I could describe it in the least inflammatory way,” Mr Li began.
“There may be some retaliatory publications made by (Mr Reubenstein) to (Mr Wade’s) tweets, is the nature of it.”
“There are some publications that perhaps seek to discredit (Mr Wade’s) research or the integrity of the public servant.”
Mr Reubenstein is also suing the commonwealth, alleging it is vicariously liable for Mr Wade’s alleged defamation and copyright violations because he was tweeting on the clock.
Barrister Clarissa Amato said the government had not yet decided if it would contest the liability issue.
“There is a fair amount of work still to do,” she said.
Mr Wade’s Twitter account is locked, meaning only his followers and not the general public can view his tweets.
He is being represented by prominent Queensland barrister Anthony Morris QC, who did not appear in court on Thursday.
Mr Morris also acted for student Drew Pavlou in his appeal against a two-year suspension, reduced to six months, from the University of Queensland due to misconduct, which Mr Pavlou maintains was retribution for his anti-Beijing activism on campus.
Mr Wade and Mr Reubenstein were ordered to file a defence and reply respectively and will return to court for mediation in late September.