Redland City Council defamation threats not on, says councillor

A BITTER lesson has been learned by Redland city councillors and staff.

The matter concerns council’s threat of legal action against residents who posted complaints and negative comments on Facebook and other social media sites about council decisions and mayor Karen Williams in 2015.

The State Ombudsman has strongly criticised council action. At last week’s general council meeting we also learnt that the decision to take this action against residents was not put to councillors.

As well, a decision was taken at the highest level to write to a complainant’s employer about her posts.

There is something inherently nasty in this. It goes past the point of seeking redress and gets to the level of punitive action, minus judge and jury.

Long standing councillor Murray Elliott attacked the issue, labelling it a dog act. His language may have been intemperate but at least it brought to a point the issues at hand.

Not a single councillor was prepared to defend council’s actions and nor should they have. The people who were a party to taking this action and those who advised them should be ashamed.

Having said that, the issue as a whole highlights a sad fact of contemporary life. That is the blind fury and hatred that spills out of the internet daily and reactions it can invoke.

First term councillor Paul Golle raised this matter, wondering why it was that people could post derogatory and inaccurate comments about councillors and issues without redress.

People can vent their fury and frustrations on social media – some of which is valid – in mere seconds, without the time for rational thought or fact checking.

In a way it’s not new. Newspaper editors have known this for a long time as they threw streams of ill-informed allegations into the bin from aggrieved letter writers.

Few would disagree with the need for a liberal state nor the absolute need to closely watch governments but there is a line in commentary where things go too far.

Matters concerning the State Ombudsman’s report are drawing to a close.

Regardless, it’s hard to imagine the issue will quickly be erased from the minds of those personally impacted (whose posts were not defamatory) and it could well encourage further those who perennially find much at fault with council and councillors.