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David Oldfield sued over terrorism website

Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia
Aug. 16, 2003
Reporter: Mark Tamhane • Monday August 18, 2003

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Pauline Hanson’s controversial former chief advisor, David Oldfield, is at the centre of a case which could set new limits on what material can legally be published on the internet.

A Melbourne lawyer has taken action against the One Nation politician under Victoria’s new Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

Mark Tamhane reports.

MARK TAMHANE: New South Wales Upper House MP, David Oldfield, says serves an important function.

DAVID OLDFIELD: It’s a resource, an archive, and provides forum for people with regards to the debate generally in Australia and internationally on Islam and terrorism.

MARK TAMHANE: Mr Oldfield says is not racist and people will only find it offensive if truth offends them.

But statements on the site like: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but nearly all terrorists are Muslims” have outraged Hisam Sidaoui.

The Melbourne lawyer is trying to use Victoria’s new Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to close the site down and sue David Oldfield.

HISAM SIDAOUI: Because I’m an aggrieved person under the Victorian legislation, and I’m seeking my legal redress.

MARK TAMHANE: Are you confident of success?

HISAM SIDAOUI: Absolutely.

MARK TAMHANE: Mr Oldfield is a resident of New South Wales and the website is currently hosted by an ISP in that state.

Why are you bringing this action under the Victorian law?

HISAM SIDAOUI: Because the legislation provides redress against any such actions or vilifications inside or outside Victoria.

MARK TAMHANE: David Oldfield believes Hisam Sidaoui’s complaint is vexatious, and he will attempt to have the action dismissed at a hearing in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal later this month.

The former Hanson advisor says the Victorian law is “strange”.

DAVID OLDFIELD: I mean, let’s face it, the Internet goes everywhere.

You have no way of stopping it going into certain juridictions and really I think, the onus is on the person who opens the site and dowloads the material, rather than the people who are responsible for putting the material on the site.

MARK TAMHANE: Closely watching the outcome is the Internet Industry Association of Australia.

The group was involved in a High Court case last year about the reach of the Internet, which gained international notoriety.

It was the landmark ruling that paved the way for Melbourne businessman, Joseph Gutnick, to sue an American on-line magazine in his home state of Victoria.

The Association’s Chief Executive, Peter Coroneos, says if Mr Sidaoui’s action suceeds, the precedent set in the Gutnick decision could be extended from defamation to also cover religious and racial vilification.

PETER CORONEOS: While I hasten to say at the outset that we in no way shape or form condone the publication of racist or offensive material on the Internet, the Internet is, by its nature, a global medium.

And we believe that, particularly we said this in the context of the Gutnick case, when we were in fact granted leave by the High Court to intervene in the defence of that case, that the fact of publishing content on the internet is a very powerful thing and permits an unprecendented level of communication and for the most part, for the common good.

But youd really want to avoid a situation where people are starting to restrain what they’re saying on the Internet, for fear that somewhere in the world, some country may have a law that prohibits the very thing that you’re trying to say.


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