What does Kenny’s ABC defamation case mean?

What does Chris Kenny’s $35,000 settlement and apology from the ABC over the Chaser’s dog f*cking joke mean for Australia’s culture? I don’t know, but I must admit I’m worried. For those who haven’t caught up on this news, you can read David Marr’s summary of the situation here. There was a lot of discussion of this case on Twitter yesterday, and already Kenny was inserting himself into the conversation in an intimidating, litigious tone, requesting an apology and no doubt aiming to remind Twitter users that they better watch what they say about him, lest they get the same punishment as the Chaser team and the ABC got: ChrisKennyTweet2 ChrisKennyTweet3 As I write this post, and discuss what Chris Kenny has said, which is all of course my opinion, something I am completely and utterly entitled to, I am nervous. This morning I’ve been warned privately by a fellow Tweep to watch what I say about Kenny on Twitter, to avoid being sued by him. The inference of course being that he has form in suing people who make jokes about him and therefore I should watch what I say. But if I decide that this Kenny/ABC defamation case has resulted in the demise of Chris Kenny’s credibility, this is my opinion and I should feel completely safe in voicing this opinion. Shouldn’t I? We live in Australia, an open and fair society so we should feel safe to make a joke or to voice an opinion without fear of a law suit, as long as I remain within the law. Shouldn’t we? And if we can’t do this, what has happened to our society? What has Chris Kenny, with the support of Tony Abbott, done? The ramifications are far reaching. Of course no discussion of free speech in Australia can be complete without mentioning Andrew Bolt’s breaching of the racial discrimination act, an action that resulted in howls of protest from the right, screaming that their free speech was under threat. One example of such protest is this statement: Many left-liberals in the love media have welcomed the decision as revenge against Bolt, rather than railing against it as an illiberal blow against free speech. This quote comes from none other than Chris Kenny. Confused yet? I personally strongly support laws that stop people like Bolt mis-representing the truth in order to discriminate against people of a certain race or nationality, and I am strongly opposed to the Abbott government’s proposed changes to Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination act. And it’s important to remember the judgement against Bolt was due to him misrepresenting facts in two articles. Simply, he said certain high-profile indigenous Australians were pretending to be indigenous to gain certain benefits when they were not pretending to be indigenous at all. So Bolt wasn’t sued over a difference of opinion, he was sued for misrepresenting facts – an important distinction. So back to Kenny. It appears to me that Kenny decided that the Chaser’s dog f*cking joke defamed him (DISCLAIMER, I am not a legal expert). In the same way that I could quite easily decide that this Tweet from Kenny defames me in implying that I have a bad-education (which I don’t): ChrisKennyTweet4 But it never occurred me to sue Kenny over this Tweet, nor any of the nasty responses it elicited from Kenny’s followers after this exchange, nor any of the offensive abuse I quite often receive on Twitter and on my blog. Kenny doesn’t hold back in belittling and ridiculing left-wingers on Twitter, nor does he criticise the abuse given out by his right wing mates. So the fact that Kenny was the one suing the ABC over a joke does seem to me to be infuriatingly hypocritical to say the least (can I say that without being sued?). In fact, it would appear that the right are only worried about free-speech being impeded when it’s a right-winger’s speech being impeded. For example, you would think that a staunch defender of free-speech – Andrew Bolt – would condemn Kenny’s court case as damaging the Chaser and the ABC’s right to freedom of speech. But no. As noted in Marr’s analysis, Bolt commented in Kenny’s defence saying:

“Yes, the graphic was clearly fake. But the issue is that it was obscene, humiliating and viciously abusive…”

However, we don’t see such concern from Andrew Bolt or Chris Kenny about obscene, humiliating and viciously abusive images when it comes to right-wing bloggers like Larry Pickering. Pickering regularly publishes highly offensive cartoons of progressive politicians on his right-wing blog, such as one described by Bernard Keane showing Gillard as a “dildo-wielding rapist”. What would Bolt and Kenny have said if Julia Gillard had sued Larry Pickering for the same reason Kenny sued the ABC, by saying that the cartoon implies she is a dildo-wielding rapist and that this implication defames her character? How can they even reconcile their staunch defense of free-speech when it comes to Bolt’s case, but then turn around and try to silence the likes of the ABC’s Chasers from PhotoShopping images in a comedy sketch show? Of course I can only ask these questions, I can’t answer them. It’s people like me who write a blog, and people like me and thousands of others who partake in Twitter commentary all day every day who should be worried about Kenny’s defamation precedent. And that’s the thing that makes this situation most confusing. Because Kenny is also a regular public commentator, but the difference is, he is paid to offer his opinion and I am not. Kenny is on Twitter numerous times a day and he writes a blog (DISCLAIMER: Kenny’s blog is really badly written and this of course is just my opinion) on The Australian’s website, as well as regularly appearing on Sky News – offering his opinion on a range of subjects. So what if we were all slapped with law suits every time someone felt we had publically offended them? What would this mean for Kenny’s career? Just a quick trawl through Kenny’s twitter feed revealed this tweet with a link to a video called ‘How to behave during an Islamic Massacre’. Kenny also helpfully points out that the video raises questions you’ll never hear on the ABC. Chris Kenny Tweet Without forcing anyone to watch this video, I can tell you people of Muslim faith might find it highly offensive. So is Kenny suggesting these offended people should sue Andrew Klavan who made the video? Or should they sue Kenny for posting it on Twitter? What if I decided to sue Kenny because I am deeply offended by his non-factual opinions about climate change? The thing is, there are literally hundreds of memes, PhotoShopped images and home-made videos floating around Twitter at any given moment – what if each of these was the subject of court proceedings? What would happen to our culture if we felt scared to take part in commentary on social media – about politics, about business and economics, about sport, arts, culture, the environment, for amusement or maybe just to pass time. What if I felt scared to write open letters, such as this one I wrote to Chris Kenny? I feel Australia would be different and for this I am incredibly upset with Chris Kenny (which I assume I can’t be sued for saying?).


  1. Possibly a positive to come out of all this is that the more aggressive the conservatives become, the easier it becomes to define the alternative. With each new ideological appointment, with each new revenge royal commission, each new resort to secrecy, the clearer the picture of the far right dog eat dog world becomes – and the clearer the picture of an alternative society becomes. There’s also a bit of fun to be had watching a conservative commentator like Van Onselen calling Jones and Bolt out as bullies – but only because they were after one of their own (Turnbull). Julia Gillard was always fair game. I’ve never known why anyone with a contrary opinion engages with them. A Paul Murray show, for instance, with a special panel of Kenny, Albrechtsen and Devine, is peculiarly funny as it dies a death of furious agreement and irrelevance… But here’s a hint: I hear that if you really want to infuriate Bolt all you have to do is suggest all his comment is for cash. Not that I believe that suggestion for a moment, but there you go… As for Kenny, I think the poor bugger really believes everything he says.

    • Postscript, Victoria: I also wanted to say I’m pleased to see Port doing so well… No, I’m not your typical Collingwood supporter! These days I prefer to go to suburban Melbourne grounds each weekend and watch the Pies VFL team. There I can have a chat to Australians (like myself) who still have a bit of regard for the fair go, as long as we’re not discussing umpires – unlike ugly elitists like Pyne (education for the wealthy), ugly bigots like Brandis (free speech for Bolt) and ugly turds like Dutton (health for the wealthy). Australians don’t want to be Americans.

      And PPS: the bloke I stood next to yesterday down at Casey Fields (watching the Pies play the Scorpions) was a farmer whose dam wasn’t filling up and had a serious issue with climate change issues. Down that part of the world, we’re in Greg Hunt electoral territory.

  2. This story only highlights the fact that it is increasingly difficult to insult tories, it is they who have the money not us, it is they who can afford to go to any court in the land and contest anything, not us. It was a great piece from Victoria, highlighting the struggle against the unfair system and why we cannot just change the government alone, we must repair the justice system as well.

  3. Play the ball, not the man, and you should be fine. If objection was taken to the views that Kenny put forward, Voltaire would insist that we should all celebrate the right of all to argue against his position every day and twice on Sunday.

    That’s a world away from showing a manipulated photo of him engaging in carnal activities with a dog. Even bolt, in asking the question about someone’s ancestry was still a long way from the level of the chaser. Freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee your feelings wont get hurt, but it does mean you have freedom to respond.

    Perhaps we need to be more polite in how we engage online. Defamation is serious. Taking someone’s character and ripping it to shreds matters.

    The muslim video: that people might take offense doesn’t mean that the allegations aren’t true. Tell me with a straight face that whenever a mass terrorist event happens you don’t automatically think it is likely to be done by muslims, in the name of islam.

    Truth is a defence to defamation: Remain factually true, and don’t impugn others and you’ll steer clear of needing to worry about warming up defamation lawyers.

      • So which characteristic of Kenny was being satirised in showing him in that way with that caption?

        Don’t pretend it was satire to defend character assassination and public abuse.

      • Enough of the confected outrage, everything is fair game in the world of comedy, judging by your response its clear that you are easily offended, so I will assume you dont get out much, especially to comedy shows.
        Your partisanship is becoming very boring, you should learn to lighten up.

      • Guddy: I observed the chaser thing on the night it was broadcast. It was in really bad taste. It doesn’t matter how readily i am offended, the target of the abusive imagery believed that it maligned his character. The limits of humour lie at the doors of defamation.

        Maligning someone’s character shouldn’t be tolerated no matter which side of politics it comes from. Neither side is clean, but that’s no reason to give a nod to what the ABC defended for months. Then again, isn’t the ABC meant to be above “sides”?

      • You win Andy, I have to agree with everything in your last post. It is absolutely disgraceful the way the poor dog was treated. Dogs everywhere should be incensed.

      • Summary: if you have a “progressive” comedy show, you’d better have a rock solid legal team to run the material past as seemingly relying on progressives to have an innate sense of decency or what constitutes defamation is a losing cause.

      • Andy M, in a free country we are all entitled to an opinion, even tory defenders, who support multibillion dollar companies who dodge paying their fair share of taxation to the nation that they make their income from. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported today, we have currently, a regressive government who have a “war against the poor” and you can defend the indefensible if you care to do so however, many, many Australians are now waking up and seeing the LNP unmasked, for who they really are. The awakening is on a massive scale that neither you, nor any other tory lover are able to prevent, social media now spreads news like wildfire, even news uneditored by your tory press.

  4. I didn’t see the Chaser, but from what I’ve heard, the taste was questionable. But that’s a far cry from the stupidity of launching a defamation case, which only draws more attention to it. Could we perhaps surmise that he felt that was desirable? It is my opinion, and mine only, and what’s more I don’t have any money so don’t bother suing, is that anyone who can suggest the Murdoch press is unbiased needs a serious reality check.

    As for the principles involved – if you become a public figure, you must expect public comment on every aspect of your life. Regrettable, perhaps, but it goes with the territory. The dignity with which Julia Gillard weathered the storm of outrageous villification thrown at her by Abbott, Alan Jones etc should be a lesson to them all. Dignity trumps messy legal action every time.

    • How does showing an image of him purportedly buggering a dog have anything to do with his public views on abc funding?

      Look at the image in question and try defending it.

      • The JG menu was wrong as well. I don’t defend it. It was in dreadful taste. Its only redeeming quality was that it was not intended for wide broadcast, so the offense would have been to a smaller circle. The restauranteur would have been lucky that he wasn’t had up for defamation for it as well.

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