Australian judge lifts court ban on X showing video of Sydney church stabbing

13 May 2024, 10:04

A person using a laptop keyboard
Cyber fraud. Picture: PA

X was alone among social media platforms in refusing to remove video of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being stabbed.

An Australian judge has lifted a ban on the social media platform X showing Australians a video of a bishop being stabbed in a Sydney church.

The temporary ban was put in place on April 22, but the judge rejected the application from Australia’s eSafety Commission to extend the court order that would have expired on Monday.

Australian Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Kennett said he would publish his reasons for imposing and lifting the order later.

The decision was a win for the company rebranded by billionaire Elon Musk when he bought Twitter last year.

X was alone among social media platforms in refusing to remove video of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being stabbed.

Mr Musk has argued that he is standing up for a freedom of speech principle.

Australian legislators have accused him of arrogance and of lacking a sense of social responsibility.

“Not trying to win anything. I just don’t think we should be suppressing Australian’s rights to free speech,” Mr Musk posted on X after the ruling.

X is also taking a separate court action against eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant, a former Twitter employee, that challenges the validity of her notice requiring the platform to remove video of the April 15 attack in an Assyrian Orthodox church.

The judge is expected to consider setting a hearing date on Wednesday.

Assistant treasurer Stephen Jones said the government might consider changing Australian law after reading Justice Kennett’s reasons for removing his order that required X to hide the video from users.

Australia’s eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant
Australia’s eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

“There’s a fundamental principle at stake and that is, if you’re a company or anybody operating in Australia, then you’ve got to abide by Australian laws,” Mr Jones said.

He also said the government supported Ms Inman Grant’s stance on the video.

“She made the right decision in our view to ensure that that dangerous, violent, harmful material wasn’t being propagated online and encouraging and inciting that sort of behaviour here in Australia,” Mr Jones said.

A 16-year-old boy was charged with terrorism-related offences over the stabbings of the bishop and a priest who were injured in the attack.

X has geoblocked Australian users from the content, but eSafety wants a worldwide ban on the video, which can still be accessed from Australia through VPNs.

An eSafety lawyer, Tim Begbie, described X in court last week as a “market leader in proliferating and distributing violent content and violent and extremist material”.

Mr Begbie said Australia could not be expected to conform to X’s “pro-free speech stance”.

“The fact is that that stance is in large measure illusory. Because X doesn’t stand for ‘global removal is bad’ in some pure sense,” he said.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

X’s own policies repeatedly refer to circumstances in which the platform will elect to remove content globally, Mr Begbie said.

“The real position is this: X says that ‘reasonable’ means what X wants it to mean,” he said.

“Global removal is reasonable when X does it because X wants to do it. But it becomes unreasonable when X is told to do it by the laws of Australia,” Mr Begbie added.

X lawyer Bret Walker said X had taken reasonable steps to block the content from Australia but there had been glitches.

He described eSafety’s demand for a global ban as astonishing and the notice as invalid.

“You don’t expect to see statutes saying the Australian parliament will regulate what concerning Australia – that is events in Australia – can be viewed in Russia, Finland, Belgium or the United States,” Mr Walker said.

“Not unless we want to become isolationist to a degree that is unthinkable,” he added.

By Press Association

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