What is defamation? And why should Otis Carey sue?

Otis Carey is reported to be suing Surfing Life and Nathan Myers for defamation.

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In Australian law defamation is:

  • Anything that says you are dishonest or disloyal
  • Anything that ridicules you
  • Anything that accuses you of committing a crime
  • Anything that says you have a disease

This refers specifically to someone publishing something damaging to your reputation that people have already seen but can also be used to stop people from publishing something damaging before it happens. Read more here.

People do have the right to sue surfing magazines if they pubish defamatory remarks just as they can sue other publications. They can ask for a retraction, an apology, or sue for damages. Publications can also offer to make amends.

Calling someone an ape, or apelike, is not a compliment in English language. It never has been, and I doubt it ever will be. To say it was not your intent to insult is beside the point. If the writer didn’t pick up on it, and the editing team didn’t pick up on it, but Otis Carey and the rest of the world did? It’s not “tabloid” muck raking- it’s plain and simple insulting, recognised globally as ridiculing someone. You shouldn’t expect people to put up with your insults just because you think you’re being funny.

Colourblindness and a lack of awareness is symptomatic of privilege and ignorance. It is considered in modern society to be racist if you do not recognise the disadvantage others face when they are a minority ethnic group. Colourblind behaviour is defined as racist. Racism isn’t just blatant like the guys in white sheets. It is subversive and subtle. It is more pervasive than ever in this fashion.

Nathan Myers is quoted in Tracks Mag as saying “surfing is surfing”. I think he suggests that surfing is some kind of other planet where people don’t have to be aware of global issues. I object to Nathan using the surfing community as a shield in his own defence. This suggests we live in a surfing bubble where only the waves, the wax and the party matter. Just this week Scott Ladermen’s book, Empire in Waves, was promoted by both Cori Schumacher and Dexter Hough-Snee as critiquing the idea that surfing is not part of world politics and issues. To suggest our past time or sport is some kind of refuge for ignorance is an insult to surfers who have been activists and who continue to agitate for change. There are people in the lineup who are opinionated, active members of the wider community; not just Otis Carey. Not everybody buys the status quo ‘reality’.

Otis Carey is a spokesperson for indigenous Australians. I have mentioned before that he already has to make a stand. He has been a role model and an advocate for his people in the surfing world and wider community. To suggest he should put up with insulting statements because other groups are insulted is to underestimate the prejudice and suffering generations of Indigenous Australians have suffered. It also suggests that people are entitled to use inappropriate names regardless of how the people involved feel about it.

To suggest Otis is unforgiving or not peaceful, as Nathan did in his Tracks Mag interview, is to suggest that ignorance is peace. Ignorance isn’t peaceful. Ignorance of other cultures and customs, and the refusal to show acceptance, is a step towards misunderstanding, conflict and war. Those who choose to turn a blind eye choose to allow suffering to continue and sow the seeds of unrest. Rebellions exist because injustice exists.

The Tracks Mag article gave Nathan a platform to express his contempt for the legal process and it also had little regard for the harm done to Otis Carey’s reputation. The Inertia has also given Nathan a platform to discredit the legal course Otis Carey is taking. Nathan is essentially saying that he personally is happy with the way he has apologised but is that enough? I don’t see much at all of Nathan being aware of vocabulary useful to discuss issues relating to racism or diversity or indigenous issues. He even uses intent as a defence. I’ve suggested a link here about why intent is insufficient excuse.

That lack of awareness of language used, or concepts involved in these issues, is very telling. He is, after all, in a magazine article suggesting Otis isn’t one of our surfing community for speaking up, for seeking legal advice and for taking lawful action. That is a threat, as far as I can see. Otis challenges the status quo, and the status quo publish an article critiquing him and sentencing him as ‘other’. This is not just in one magazine. Two surfing magazines have given Nathan Myers a platform to discredit the lawsuit and pressure Otis, in part using their audience.

Nathan Myers himself:

And, you do realize of course, that surf magazines are how freesurfers like you make your living, right? If the magazine that publishes your photos and writes stories from your travels is put out of business by your sense of vendetta… well, what then? Talk about biting the hand that feeds. I guess if you win the suit you’ll be dining well upon those bloodied knuckles. If you don’t win your suit, you’ll be gnawing fingernails. Neither result sounds very nourishing.

 

Oh, Nathan. You know what’s not nourishing? Watching you threaten someone who’s already suffered as a result of your ignorance. This is an open threat. As a member of the wider surfing community I am disgusted that the Inertia and Tracks Mag gave you the right to do this to an indigenous Australian who deserves better than this industry is giving him. Is this what the surf media stands for? Is this the measure of our industry?

Otis Carey is as much a surfer and a part of our community as ever. A wave and a board doesn’t give us a license to get away with ignorant, disrespectful behaviour. If being an idiot is supposed to be a part of surf culture then being an intelligent formidable opponent should also be considered a part of it.

I stand with the members of our surfing community who are diverse, unique, and deserving of our informed support and understanding. We need to think before we speak. We need to have educated opinions. We need to stand for justice and equality.

I stand with Otis.

EDIT: Cori Schumacher gives her perspective

Twitter Feedback is less than impressed and not swayed by rhetoric:

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