In the decade I spent reporting from China, the most immediate obstacles to journalism were often physical. They took many forms: barricades blocking access to certain places; men in military buzz cuts trailing me; plainclothes thugs stationed in front of the homes of people I planned to interview; and of course, the threat of police detention. In one memorable incident, an official threw himself in front of the car I was riding in with colleagues to delay our departure, precipitating an unseemly shoving match. These physical manifestations of state power were designed to muzzle through intimidation and brute force, occasionally reinforced with threats of visa refusal.
在我报道中国的十年间,新闻报道最直接的障碍往往是有形的。它们有多种形式:路障挡住了通往某处的入口,留着军人平头的男子慢吞吞地跟在我身后,便衣暴徒驻扎在我计划采访的人家门口,当然了,还会被威胁把我抓起来。在一则难忘的事件中,一名官员只身冲到了我和同事乘坐的车前,拖延我们的离开,瞬间引发了一场不大体面的推搡。这些国家权力的有形表现旨在通过恐吓及强力钳制言论,并时而以威胁拒发签证加以强化。
Then I moved to Australia. To my surprise, writing about China from Melbourne proved no simpler. But there, I was hobbled by different forces, namely Australia’s oppressive and notoriously complex defamation laws. The challenges of such reporting were underlined recently by an Australian federal court, which awarded nearly $200,000 (about 280,000 Australian dollars) to a Chinese businessman, Chau Chak-wing, after finding that a 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article about him was defamatory. The judge ruled that the article, which alleged that Mr. Chau, who has been a major political donor in Australia, was involved in bribing a United Nations official, used language that was “imprecise, ambiguous and loose, but also sensational and derisory.”
之后我搬到了澳大利亚。结果令我惊讶的是,从墨尔本报道中国并没有更容易。在那里,我反而是受困于不一样的阻力,即澳大利亚压制性的、以复杂著称的诽谤法。这类报道的挑战在近期的一则案件中得到了突显:澳大利亚联邦法院裁定华裔商人周泽荣获得近20万美元(约合28万澳元)作为赔偿,原因是发现《悉尼先驱晨报》(The Sydney Morning Herald)2015年的一篇关于他的文章构成诽谤。该文称一直作为澳大利亚主要政治捐助者的周泽荣涉嫌贿赂一名联合国官员,法官判定它使用了“模糊不清、模棱两可、有失严谨的措辞,但同时又具有煽动性和嘲弄意味”。
The judgment, against one of the country’s biggest media companies, underlines how badly broken Australian defamation laws are. These laws are impeding journalism on matters of vital national interest, including China’s growing and controversial influence, and they have made Australia the defamation capital of the world.
这一对澳大利亚最大媒体公司的判决,突显了澳大利亚诽谤法的情形有多糟糕。这些法律正在阻碍事关国家重大利益的事件的报道,包括中国日益增长、颇受争议的影响力,它们还让澳大利亚成为了全世界的诽谤之都。
The case is extremely complex, but one aspect of it underlines the law’s inconsistency. Some of the most serious allegations against Mr. Chau were repeated in the Australian Parliament by Andrew Hastie, a member of Parliament. His comments were reported in the media, under the cover of parliamentary privilege, which protects lawmakers and the journalists reporting on them from being sued for defamation. Effectively, the same allegations were reported twice: the first time prompting large damages in a defamation suit, then far more widely without any penalty at all.
这个案子极其复杂,但其中一个方面着重体现出法律的前后矛盾之处。针对周泽荣的一些最严厉的指控曾由议员安德鲁·哈斯蒂(Andrew Hastie)在澳大利亚议会上反复提出。他的言论被媒体进行了报道——在“议会特权”的掩护下,即其可以保护立法者和记者在相关报道中免受诽谤罪的控告。实际上,同样的指控被报道过两次:第一次因诽谤诉讼导致了高额赔偿金,其后的报道更为广泛却没有任何处罚。
澳大利亚悉尼,费尔法克斯媒体集团的大楼。
澳大利亚悉尼,费尔法克斯媒体集团的大楼。 Daniel Munoz/Reuters
The judge also rejected arguments that the article was in the public interest. This “qualified privilege” defense has never been successfully used in a case regarding the media, according to a leading defamation law expert. The judge found that the conduct of Fairfax Media, the owner of The Sydney Morning Herald at the time, and the journalist John Garnaut was unreasonable. The paper’s new owner, Nine Entertainment, says it will appeal.
法官还驳回了认为这篇文章合乎公众利益的观点。据一位知名诽谤法专家表示,这种“有限特许权”抗辩从未被成功用于媒体相关的案件。法官认定《悉尼先驱晨报》所属的费尔法克斯媒体集团(Fairfax media)在当时的行为,以及记者高安西(John Garnaut)的行为是不合理的。该报新东家九号台娱乐公司(Nine Entertainment)表示其将上诉
The current state of defamation laws complicate all kinds of reporting. A survey conducted in May 2018 by the Australian journalists’ union found that almost a quarter of the 1,292 respondents said they’d had a news story spiked within the previous 12 months because of fears of defamation action.
诽谤法的现状使得所有类别的报道都更复杂。澳大利亚记者联合会2018年5月实施的一项调查发现,在1292名受访者中,近四分之一的人表示,其在过去12个月中曾因担心构成诽谤而弃用过一则新闻报道。
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But reporters working on China-related stories feel the chill more deeply. One reporter described “unbelievable” levels of vetting to me, while another admitted to fearing being seen as a “troublemaker” in the newsroom because of the level of legal attention their China stories receive. And many of the best and most experienced Australian reporters on China are effectively muzzled from speaking out about the effect of the defamation laws because they are already involved in such lawsuits.
而致力于中国相关报道的记者对这股寒意的感受则更深切。一名记者向我描述遇到了“难以置信”的审查,另一名则因其中国相关报道所受到的密切法律关注而坦言,害怕被当成新闻编辑室的“麻烦制造者”。许多在报道中国领域最优秀、最有经验的澳大利亚记者,实际上已被阻止就诽谤法的影响发声,因为他们已经陷入这类诉讼。
There is a real danger that newsrooms suffering financial pressures could steer away from important China-related stories out of fear of defamation suits. For freelancers without the backing of a major media outlet, reporting such stories is almost impossible. In 2017 the possibility of legal action was cited as one reason the publisher Allen & Unwin dumped Clive Hamilton’s “Silent Invasion,” a book about China’s role in Australia.
真正的危险在于,遭受资金压力的新闻编辑室可能会因担心惹上诽谤官司而避开中国相关的重要报道。对于没有大型媒体机构支撑的自由撰稿人,报道这类题材几乎没有可能。2017年,艾伦与昂温出版社(Allen & Unwin)放弃出版克莱夫·汉密尔顿(Clive Hamilton)关于中国对澳大利亚的作用一书《无声的侵略》(Silent Invasion),其引述的理由之一便是可能会招致法律行动。
The terms of Australia’s engagement with China are of vital importance, since Australia — which ships a third of its exports to China — is the most China-dependent economy in the developed world. It has just introduced new foreign influence transparency laws in the wake of a political donations scandal involving a Chinese billionaire and a testy debate about the extent of Chinese influence inside Australian institutions. But the defamation regime means the parameters of the public debate are defined not by necessity but by lawyers.
澳大利亚与中国维持良好关系至关重要,因为澳大利亚三分之一的出口去了中国,是发达国家中最依赖中国的经济体。澳大利亚在一名中国亿万富翁卷入政治献金丑闻,并就中国在澳机构内的影响力展开激烈辩论之后,刚刚出台了新的外国影响透明度法律。但根据现行的诽谤法律制度,界定公众辩论边界的不是必要性,而是律师们。
The current system is unworkable. Australia’s unique legal situation arises out of its lack of a Bill of Rights or any explicit constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. Against this backdrop, Australia’s defamation law tends to privilege the right to reputation over freedom of expression. Defending an action is often far costlier than settling, making the law especially punitive for media companies. According to Richard Coleman, a lawyer for the Fairfax Media group, only 10 percent to 15 percent of defamation claims against it ever make it to court. But all cases, even vexatious ones, tie up resources at media outlets already struggling with collapsing circulation, disappearing advertising and costly buyouts.
眼下的这个制度是难以操作的。澳大利亚法律状况的独特性在于,它没有一项《权利法案》,对于言论自由也没有明确的宪法保障。在此背景下,澳大利亚的诽谤法倾向于将名誉权置于言论自由之上。这使得诉讼成本往往远高于和解的代价,法律对媒体公司的惩罚也因此尤其严厉。据费尔法克斯媒体集团(Fairfax Media)的律师理查德·科尔曼(Richard Coleman)称,针对该公司的诽谤指控中,只有10%到15%告上了法庭。但所有这些案件,即便是无理取闹的案件,都会占用本已在发行量锐减、广告减少和昂贵的收购中苦苦挣扎的媒体的资源。
A handful of high-profile defamation cases can effectively serve as a brake on free speech. I experienced a very small taste of the law’s muzzling impact firsthand late in 2017, when I co-authored a story about the existence of a Confucius Institute within the New South Wales Department of Education, an unprecedented arrangement placing employees paid by a Chinese entity inside an Australian state government department. Our story led to a government review, which is ongoing.
几起引人注目的诽谤案件,就可以有效地起到遏制言论自由的作用。在2017年年底,我有了亲身的体会,略微尝到了法律钳制言论所造成冲击。当时,我与人合写了一篇关于新南威尔士州教育部里面存在着一家孔子学院的报道是一个前所未有的安排,员工的工资由澳大利亚州政府部门内的一个中国实体来出。我们的报道引起了政府的审查,目前审查仍在继续。
Even for a China veteran, I was taken aback by the heavy lawyering for this article. The story was carefully vetted by two lawyers, who excised direct quotes, deleted people’s names and removed statistics and quotes that were already in the public domain, in Australia’s Chinese-language newspapers. They made these redactions even though no one was certain whether the Confucius Institute has standing to sue in Australian courts. The lawyers were simply doing their job, but the effect is nothing less than self-censorship.
即便作为一名报道中国的老手,我也被这篇文章繁重的相关法务工作吓一跳。两名律师对报道进行了仔细审查,他们删除了澳大利亚中文报纸上的直接引语,删除了人名,删除了已经公开的统计数据和引语。尽管没有人确定孔子学院是否有资格在澳大利亚法院发起诉讼,但他们还是做出了这些修改。律师只是在做自己的工作,但就效果来说,无异于自我审查。
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As a result, the Australian public is less informed and less able to monitor its own institutions. National security is also at risk, especially since these defamation laws could be weaponized by authoritarian states, wielding the heightened threat of lawsuits as a cudgel to silence reporting about their activities.
因此,澳大利亚公众的知情权和监督本国机构的能力都有所下降。国家安全也面临风险,尤其是因为这些诽谤法可能会被威权国家用作武器,动辄以告上法庭为威胁,压制对其活动的报道。
A long-running review of the defamation laws, led by New South Wales, is slowly grinding onward, but an upgrade is desperately needed. The current defamation law was introduced in 2006, predating the social media era. To protect journalism, Australian lawmakers should strengthen the public-interest defense, putting in place protections for confidential sources and a single-publication rule, to stop multiple actions over the same article.
由新南威尔士州牵头的对诽谤法的长期审查正在缓慢推进,但该法亟需升级。目前的诽谤法出台于2006年,早于社交媒体时代。为了保护新闻业,澳大利亚立法者应该加强公共利益的保护,对秘密信息来源和一次性发表原则进行保护,以防止针对同一篇文章出现多个诉讼。
Justice is supposed to be blind, but this legal battlefield favors those with financial means, impoverishing principles like freedom of the press. The ultimate damage will be to Australia’s democracy.
正义本应是蒙眼的,但这个法律战场偏袒那些有财力、缺乏新闻自由等原则的人。最终受到损害的,将是澳大利亚的民主。