How Australia became the defamation capital of the world

A ruling in favour of a Chinese-Australian billionaire businessman against the Sydney Morning Herald illustrates the sorry state of the country's defamation laws

Businessman Chau Chak Wing leaving the New South Wales Federal Court in Sydney last year. The court recently awarded about $270,000 to the Chinese-Australian businessman after finding that a 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article about him was defamatory
Businessman Chau Chak Wing leaving the New South Wales Federal Court in Sydney last year. The court recently awarded about $270,000 to the Chinese-Australian businessman after finding that a 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article about him was defamatory.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In the decade I spent reporting from China, the most immediate obstacles to journalism were often physical. They took many forms: barricades blocking access to certain places; men in military buzz cuts trailing me; plainclothes thugs stationed in front of the homes of people I planned to interview; and of course, the threat of police detention.

In one memorable incident, an official threw himself in front of the car I was riding in with colleagues to delay our departure, precipitating an unseemly shoving match. These physical manifestations of state power were designed to muzzle through intimidation and brute force, occasionally reinforced with threats of visa refusal.

Please or to continue reading the full article.

Get unlimited access to all stories at $0.99/month

  • Latest headlines and exclusive stories
  • In-depth analyses and award-winning multimedia content
  • Get access to all with our no-contract promotional package at only $0.99/month for the first 3 months*

*Terms and conditions apply.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2019, with the headline 'How Australia became the defamation capital of the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe