The Legal Bits

Code of Conduct

We could of course have echoed US economist Gary Shilling’s observations on his blog: “Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.”

But, no ...

Tasmanian Times is dedicated to independent, lively debate about politics, media, business, culture and society generally, but with a particular emphasis on Tasmania. We welcome your participation in this discussion, but we ask that you help us keep the conversation useful, interesting and welcoming.

We aim to publish all comments submitted promptly and without editing but ask that you help Tasmanian Times by following the comments guidelines.

In 2010, TT published approximately 25,000 comments. In 2011 comments are running at approximately twice the 2010 rate. Tasmanian Times runs on the dream of an oily rag and the voluntary workload in moderating comments is growing dramatically. Complying with the code of conduct is one way that you can ensure that Tasmanian Times publishes comments quickly and devotes as much time as possible to adding new editorial content.

So here’s a few rules of thumb to consider before you submit a comment

1. Tone matters: A constructive, engaging and respectful tone helps facilitate better understanding on the points of disagreement and agreement between contributors. It also ensures that readers of the articles continue on to read comments.

2. Civility promotes debate: We ask that people ‘play the ball not the person’. Remember, a thread that resembles a sparring session will end up having a tiny readership. If you want your comments to be read by as many others as possible, sticking to the issues helps keep the discussion interesting. Avoid aggressive language, taunts, swearing and sexist comments. Comments that could be interpreted as bullying, threatening or encouraging legal action or advocating property destruction or violence will be deleted.

3. Contribute and clarify: If you can, provide a link or contribute additional information that helps inform other readers. Or, if you are uncertain about a point, ask a question and seek clarification.

4. Pen names: As far as possible, we prefer people to contribute comments under their own real name. Tasmanian Times accepts that some good-faith contributors prefer to use a pen name. We also acknowledge that it is impossible to prevent people from registering under what appear to be real names using valid email addresses. 

However, we ask that where people who work for private companies, government agencies or political parties post comments in work time promoting their employers’ policies, then they should be up-front about disclosing who they work for. Where we become aware that people are using anonymity to peddle their employers’ views without disclosure, we will err on deleting the comments.

5. One persona: Sometimes it is obvious that one person is creating multiple personas to submit comments. Sometimes this can be multiple personas on one thread to create the illusion that multiple people support one view. Sometimes one persona is used on one thread and another on a different thread. Where TT is aware that multiple personas have been used by one person, the comments will be deleted.

Some simple style points that would ease Tasmanian Times‘s editing workload

1. Lower case letters are quieter and softer on the eyes; upper case words are the equivalent of shouting. Tasmanian Times simply doesn’t have time to retype comments or parts of comments which include capitals. Sorry, but comments which include sentences in capitals will be deleted.

2. Use a spellchecker in your browser window before you submit a comment. Alternatively, compose your comment in your word processor or email program, run the spellchecker and then cut and paste it into the comments field. A surprisingly high proportion of comments have one or more spelling errors. We don’t expect perfection but we appreciate it if you can tweak your comment at your end rather than rely on Tasmanian Times to do it. 

Some legal red flags

Under Australian law, companies which employ more than 10 people can’t sue for defamation. But smaller companies and individuals can. Without going into the complexities of defamation law, key elements of a defence relate to truth and public interest.

So some rough rules of thumb for avoiding legal skirmishes are:

1. Avoid playing the individual. Any terms that could be construed as diminishing the personal or professional standing of an individual could be defamatory. Avoid describing people as liars, engaging in lying or corrupt.

2.  Even if you don’t mention someone by name, it may be possible that individuals could reasonably be identified by the public. For example, a statement that “all the members of the Tasmanian XXXX are corrupt” would be defamatory of all the members of the group even if it had been proven that one of the members of the group had been convicted of corruption. 

3. If you are angry when you are writing something, it is best to set it aside and see if that’s how you would write it 24 hours later.

How we aim to edit comments

1. Tasmanian Times aims to publish all comments received which are consistent with the code. In Tasmanian Times‘s view, the greater the diversity of comments published the better. Comments are not deleted because of the point of view expressed but they are because of how they are expressed.

2. TT aims to have comments published within 12 hours of being submitted. Usually comments are published within a few hours of being submitted though Tasmanian Times editors kick back a bit on the weekend and public holidays.

3. To reduce the lead time in publishing comments and eliminate editing time, Tasmanian Times aims to publish comments in their entirety or not at all. Editing comments to take out a sentence here or a few problematic words there is time-consuming and risks unfairly distorting the author’s original intent.

4. When reviewing comments, Tasmanian Times editors scans to see whether they are off-topic, legally risky or breach the code provisions. TT’s default operating procedure is that if in doubt, delete. The reason for this is that if a comment in the unpublished comments queue is held pending further consideration, it causes all the comments on the same thread to bank up behind it. (Or, if held back while others are published first, it causes problems with the numbering which then causes other problems).

5. Tasmanian Times has a number of people who help share the load in moderating comments. While we aim for consistency in interpreting the standards of the code we don’t always get it right. However, if you find that your comments aren’t being published on a regular basis, please review the code and see where it is that you could be going wrong. 

Thanks for your assistance in helping make Tasmanian Times better.

The TT Team.

Corrections

Tasmanian Times aims to work within the law. Our policy is to immediately remove any inaccurate or defamatory material brought to our attention and publicly acknowledge and correct all our mistakes. If you believe you’ve been defamed by anything on Tasmanian Times, email editor@tasmaniantimes.com

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