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Australian journalist issues legal threats over Weinstein book

Type of protection : Granting release

The prominent Australian journalist who featured in separate scandals involving disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has issued legal threats over investigative reporter Ronan Farrow's upcoming book on the MeToo movement.

Lawyers for Dylan Howard, a former Channel Seven sports reporter who went on to become a top executive in the US with tabloid publisher American Media Inc (AMI),  have sent legal warnings to Australian bookshops and a publisher over Farrow's book Catch and Kill, which comes out on Tuesday.

Dylan Howard, pictured at a function in New York this year, made a career in the United States.

Dylan Howard, pictured at a function in New York this year, made a career in the United States. CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

Howard's Australian solicitor, Andrew Thorpe, said his client "apprehends the book will contain content defamatory of him, by reason of disclosures made to our client's US attorney by a 'fact checker' working for Mr Farrow or the publisher".

"If, despite warning to the contrary, the author and publisher decide to release the book in Australia and if the book contains defamatory imputations against our client, then a legal action will be launched by our client against the author, the publisher and any distributors, seeking damages," Mr Thorpe said via email.

Two booksellers, one a national online bookseller and the other a small independent store in Sydney, confirmed they had received letters from Howard's lawyers.

Both said they had forwarded the missives onto Farrow's publisher, the international giant Hachette, which is publishing the book through its Little, Brown imprint and is standing by its contents.

A spokeswoman for the publisher said: "Little, Brown Book Group will be publishing Catch and Kill on 15th October as planned and has no further comment."

Though Howard lives in the United States, he could still bring a claim for defamation in Australia because he has a reputation here.

Professor David Rolph, a media law expert at the University of Sydney, said while booksellers and other distributors could be sued for defamation, they could also access a defence of innocent dissemination which protects people in those industries where they had no editorial control over the information.

But Professor Rolph cautioned that the defence is not bullet-proof.

"Innocent dissemination is dependent on lack of knowledge, so once a bookseller has been put on notice that a book may contain defamatory material then the bookseller might lose the complete defence of innocent dissemination," Professor Rolph said.

US news site The Daily Beast first reported Howard's legal threats, which were also sent by law firms in the United States and United Kingdom.

Howard has previously challenged Australian reporting on his connection to Weinstein. Last year he began litigation alleging trespass against Nine, the owner of this masthead, after one of its reporters entered a building where Mr Howard worked to question him about his relationship with Weinstein. The matter later settled.

Howard left Seven in 2008, a day after being cleared by a police investigation into how AFL players' medical records, on which he had reported, were obtained.

Farrow reported in 2017 that one of Howard's reporters spoke to a woman whose husband left her to be with Rose McGowan, an actress who accused Weinstein of raping her.

"I have something AMAZING . . . eventually she laid into Rose pretty hard," Howard wrote to Weinstein of the reporter's conversation with the woman in an email obtained by Farrow.

Weinstein replied, "This is the killer. Especially if my fingerprints r not on this." Howard then told Weinstein: "They are not. And the conversation . . . is RECORDED."

In a statement to the New Yorker, Howard said AMI had a commercial partnership with Weinstein's company that has since been terminated.

 

"I had an obligation to protect AMI’s interests by seeking out—but not publishing—truthful information about people who Mr. Weinstein insisted were making false claims against him," Howard said. "To the extent I provided ‘off the record’ information to Mr. Weinstein about one of his accusers—at a time when Mr. Weinstein was denying any harassment of any woman—it was information which I would never have allowed AMI to publish on the internet or in its magazines."

Despite at least one of Howard's reporters seeking out information about Weinstein that was not published, Howard said he kept his commercial and editorial roles separate.

Earlier this year Howard emailed Mr Bezos' team to say AMI had obtained private photos of Mr Bezos including a "below the belt selfie", which Howard implied would be published unless "common sense can prevail".

Another AMI employee then followed up with a list of demands, including that Mr Bezos stop claiming AMI's pursuit of his extramarital affair, which an AMI tabloid revealed in January, was politically motivated and in return said it would not use the photos it had obtained of Mr Bezos.

Mr Bezos declined, accused AMI and Howard of "blackmail" and published his correspondence with AMI in a blog post.

"American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos," the company said in a statement at the time.

Source : https://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-journalist-issues-legal-threats-over-weinstein-book-20191009-p52yvu.html

 

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