The Supreme Court this morning decided in favour of David Forrest, a principal of Framptons First National Real Estate, who brought a defamation action against Alice Springs News Managing Editor, Erwin Chlanda, and the publishing company, Erwin Chlanda Pty Ltd.
The decision is in the sum of $100,000 plus interest. The issue of costs is yet to be decided.
The action arose from one article that was part of news coverage over a period of more than a year, of a situation affecting some 12 local families, home buyers, clients of the Framptons New Homes scheme and collapsed building company, Carey Builders Pty Ltd. The home buyers suffered significant financial losses and anguish.
This is not the end of the story but at this time I make the following statement:-
It is the first time in my half century working as a journalist that I have had to stand trial for defamation.
The arduous experience of conducting my defence without legal representation, and with a minimum of legal advice, is motivating me to do as much as I can to get behind the current push for reform of the way our society deals with defamation.
The present system is a great impediment to freedom of speech.
There is a vast gulf between what the law and the courts can demand, and what the readers expect from us, the journalists, and our duty to inform.
Rich people are vastly more likely to win than poor people. They can set on to journalists and publishers, lawyers receiving extraordinary levels of remuneration in a rigid court process that can result in the ruin of a medium and its staff.
With the recent Finkelstein Review, these issues are well and truly in the public arena nation-wide.
This case cost my wife and colleague Kieran Finnane, our family and myself not only the small amount of money we could afford for limited legal advice, but more than a year of sustained effort and anxiety.
We will be doing our best to assist reform efforts that will serve our readers, the people we write about and our profession.
The Alice Springs News Online will continue publication and maintain its five million word (and growing) online story archive dating back to 1997. (The hard copy archive dates back to 1994.) Erwin Chlanda, Editor
See also prominent author Barry Hill's comment on how the loss needs to be put in context.
A new system of counting votes may result in a more diverse town council after the elections on March 24. Diversity certainly isn't a feature of the Mayoral poll: To a man – pardon the pun – the five candidates are male, white, middle-class, middle-age small businessmen.
The only apparent distinction is that the four challengers of incumbent Damien Ryan have links, some tenuous, with the vocal Advance Alice movement, and that they all want to get rid of Mr Ryan. How this will translate into preferences as the campaign unfolds remains to be seen.
However, the new voting system is very likely to generate more diversity among the eight councillors, to be chosen from a field of 15 candidates representing much of the town's broad social spectrum. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. PHOTO: Mayor Damien Ryan – strong on ceremony but soft on leadership, his critics claim.
In Alice Springs, which has 14,239 eligible electors on the 2012 roll, there is keen participation in the local government elections on March 24, with five candidates vying for the position of Mayor and 15 for the eight positions of Councillor.
It's different in the bush: In the Central Desert Shire, (2583 electors), the Akityarre and Northern Tanami wards had only as many nominations as vacancies.
In the Anmatjere Ward a supplementary election will be required to fill three remaining vacancies.
In the Southern Tanami Ward an election will be held on March 24, with six candidates for four positions.
In the MacDonnell Shire (3314 electors), the Iyarrka and Luritja Pintubi wards had only as many nominations as vacancies.
In the Rodinga Ward a supplementary election will be required to fill one remaining vacancy.
An election will be held for the Ljirapinta Ward, again with six candidates for four positions.
PHOTO: The last time Alice Springs voted in a town council election was a year ago when Eli Melky was elected alderman in a by-election for one vacancy, contested by seven candidates.
South Broken Hill and Alice Springs have a lot in common so far as their problems are concerned.
They couldn't be more different in their quest for solutions.
Empty shops, people leaving town, public facilities needing a facelift, the outback magic failing to lure the tourists in the numbers aspired to.
It seems The Alice could take a leaf out of South Broken Hill's book.
The poor cousin of the iconic mining town, South Broken Hill is separated from the main part of the city by a hill. As if out of sight, out of mind, the symptoms of decline set in two decades ago: shops in the main street closed. Some were turned into dwellings, some just stayed empty. Of 21 shops only 16 are occupied.
Now the push is on to get new tenants, and some short-time occupancies have been offered to artists and exhibitions.
In the long run the vigorous community action is aiming to turn Patton Village into a buzzy place for locals and a magnet for visitors. Bell's Milk Bar owner Jason King, as one of the leading lights, is spreading the message around the nation, especially through the Desert Knowledge Australia Outback Business Network. He says local government and the state government are regarded as stakeholders, "but we have to drive the changes.
"To bring Patton Village back to life, its people will have to do it." ERWIN CHLANDA reports.
PHOTO: Its own community will bring South Broken Hill back to life. No-one else will.