ABC and Fairfax Sued for Defamation


10 April 2001 Media Release

A small philanthropic organisation today commenced defamation proceedings against two of Australia’s largest media institutions, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and John Fairfax, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), over a series of media reports printed, screened and broadcast in 1995.


The Foundation for Humanity’s Adulthood (FHA), its six directors, including Tim Macartney-Snape AM and Jeremy Griffith, and 31 other FHA members have jointly filed claims for defamation against the two organisations.


The plaintiffs claim they were seriously defamed in a Four Corners program titled the ‘Prophet of Oz’, and a SMH article, ‘Prophet of the Posh’, published prior to the broadcast. Damages are also being claimed in relation to 20 related media reports.


It is believed to be the most extensive defamation action ever launched in Australia. The proceedings against the ABC alone include 38 plaintiffs, 7 defendants and 18 publications.


The ABC and the author of the Four Corners program, the Reverend Dr David Millikan (a minister of the Uniting Church and currently Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture) face a range of claims, including defamation. The Reverend Dr Lewis Robins, of the Presbyterian Church, is also among the defendants.


Reverend Millikan was also the author of the SMH article, ‘Prophet of the Posh’, in which he made allegations similar to those made in the Four Corners program. As a result of the article, the Fairfax organisation, Reverend Millikan, and Tony McClelland of CυltAware, face a defamation claim.


“These sensationalist articles and broadcasts had the effect of denying us our democratic right to freedom of expression.” Mr Macartney-Snape, renowned Australian mountaineer and FHA director said.


“We are simply a pioneering group that supports a new biological understanding of human nature,” Mr Macartney-Snape said. “This action is a fight to uphold the right to freedom of expression, the right of new ideas to receive a fair hearing in our society,” he said.


“We know this is a David versus Goliath undertaking. We are only a small, embryonic organisation taking on two of Australia’s largest media institutions, but we are determined to right this very serious wrong,” he said.


“Our work presents biological explanation of the issue of the ‘human condition’, the fundamental human dilemma of ‘good and evil’. Since this is the realm of inquiry where science and religion, reason and faith, finally overlap, our work is naturally contentious. But that doesn’t justify throwing out the rule book on fair behaviour,” Mr Macartney-Snape said.


“In order to pursue our work, we have to clear our name of the stigma cast by these publications. We can’t pursue our work successfully while that stigma hangs over us,” he said.


“The only thing we are guilty of is of daring to think – and think about the most important subject facing our species,” Mr Macartney-Snape said.


The Foundation made every effort to avert and subsequently to redress the damage caused by the ABC, Fairfax and Reverend Millikan, eventually lodging a complaint about the Four Corners program with the Australian Broadcasting Authority.


In March 1998, after a two-year-long investigation, the Authority found the ABC in breach of its code on the basis of ‘inaccurate’ and ‘unbalanced’ reporting in the Four Corners program. In July 1998 the Authority advised the ABC that it would be appropriate for the ABC to apologise to the Foundation.


In the three years since, the ABC has not challenged the media watchdog’s ruling, yet it has refused to apologise to the Foundation and has remained unaccountable for its behaviour.


“We have exhausted all other available avenues to resolve our complaints with the ABC and other parties. We are left no option but to clear our name through the courts,” Foundation founding director, biologist Jeremy Griffith, said.


“Science and religion are essentially two ways of viewing the human situation, and therefore ultimately they can and must be reconciled. The resulting inevitable demystification of religion will affront some people, but our fundamental responsibility as conscious beings is to replace dogma with knowledge,” Mr Griffith said.


“Darwin explained the origin of the variety of life, and connected humans with nature, but left still to be addressed the issue of the human condition. Finding the dignifying biological understanding of what it is to be human is the final great step in demystifying our situation. It leads to great change, which can produce resistance, but the human journey must not be impeded,” he said.


“The human condition is an extremely confronting subject for humans,” Mr Griffith said, “and because it is, opening it up can produce a strong defensive reaction in people. It is a subject humans have lived in deep psychological denial of. Like any denial, our denial of the issue of the human condition is not easily faced and overcome. The automatic response is to find a way to maintain the denial,” he said.


“It requires courage to overcome this denial, but humans must find this courage if there is to be a healthy future for the human race,” he said.