Australian #MeToo Movement Has Led to Two Defamation Cases

Following the revelations about American film producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades long inappropriate conduct towards female movie stars it was enviable it would be hijacked by the feminist movement to once again argue we live in a rape culture.

Soon after the #MeToo movement was born which encouraged other women to share their stories of alleged sexual misconduct directed towards them by powerful men. Given that the feminist movement is extremely influential in our mainstream media and public policy it was inevitable it would come to Australia.

Fairfax and the ABC set up a joint investigation unit to uncover Weinstein like sexual predators in the Australian entertainment industry. Former newsreader Tracey Spicer vowed she would out 40 and told her followers on social media to send through their allegations.

The first Australian entertainment personality to be named by the Fairfax/ABC investigation was Don Burke formerly of the lifestyle program Burke’s Backyard. The allegations were that he engaged in crude and sexually suggestive language with female colleagues. Burke did not deny using such language but said its aggressive nature had been exaggerated and was partly due to the fact he suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome.

The next name to arise this time by NewsCorp’s The Daily Telegraph was Oscar winning actor and former Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush. The Telegraph alleged Rush engaged in ‘inappropriate behaviour’ during a production of King Lear at the Sydney Theater Company however did not name any specific allegations nor did any accusers put their name forward. The Telegraph’s reporting contained the sensational headline King Leer.

Despite the vague nature of the allegations it still had the effect of putting Rush on par with the predatory nature of people like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. As a result Rush announced he was lodging a defamation action in the Federal Court of Australia to restore his reputation in the wake of the allegations.

The most recent Australian entertainer named again by Fairfax and the ABC was Gold Logie winning actor Craig McLachlan. Three women who starred with him in the 2014 Australian theater production of the Rocky Horror Show accused him of committing multiple sexual offences against them.

In the aftermath of the allegations McLachlan was stood down from his role as Dr Frank-N-Furter in the production, Victoria Police said they were investigation the allegations and production of McLachlan’s TV series the Dr Blake Mysteries was suspended. McLachlan had repeatedly denied the allegations against him and said his accusers were motivated by gaining notoriety.

This week McLachlan filed defamation proceedings against the ABC and Fairfax which described the allegations as baseless. He has employed the services Stuart Littlemore QC who was successful in winning defamation cases brought by Mercedes Corby and Pauline Hanson. News of this defamation action has occurred in the same week McLachlan was cleared of inappropriate conduct in the production of the Dr Blake Mysteries.

Given that 2 out of the 3 Australian entertainers accused of sexual misconduct are now suing for defamation it shows that the Australian #MeToo movement has not got off to a good start. While nobody can predict how these defamation actions will unfold given the expense and scrunity launching a defamation action brings Rush and McLachlan would not have brought these cases and their barristers would not have undertaken them if they didn’t think they could win.

In fact we have a recent example of this where West Indian cricketer Chris Gayle won a defamation action against Fairfax after they published an allegation he exposed himself in a locker room to a female masseuse. This allegation was published in aftermath of the media pile on against Gayle after his ‘don’t blush baby’ comments to female sports reporter Mel McLaughlin.

Many in the entertainment industry have commented that #MeToo is now becoming a feminist witch-hunt and how regular flirtatious behavior is now considered sexual misconduct. Any man who put his hand on a women’s knee or was a bit awkward when going out on a date is now accused of being a Weinstein type sexual predator.

How often have we seen the feminist movement (particularly in Australia) exploit a genuine injustices against women and hijack it as an opportunity to smear all men and further entrench their influence in the media and public policy? However if defamation actions keep arising as a result of #MeToo allegations then it might make many in the media rethink that riding the #MeToo expose train is not a good strategy.

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