13 June 2008

Lock Him Up!

Scout Area Online

Technology Feature: The Long Road to Justice?

by PJ Punla
Friday, 06 June 2008 17:49

Writer’s Note: I am, of course, not a lawyer. (Popular culture and practice on the Internet practically require me to state that disclaimer.)
This is intended to be a more fact-based follow-up to the Nine Moons column A Meditation on the Blog That Ate Manila; the main topic is now the legal impact and implications of Brian Gorrell’s blog.


At the heart of the Brian Gorrell blog (http://delfindjmontano.blogspot.com) is an accusation: Gorrell alleges that ex-lover DJ Montano took a substantial amount of money, claimed as around US$70,000, from him under false pretenses. Gorrell details that he had been told the money was going to be used to set up a restaurant and a travel agency. The money had been wired to Montano and to members of his family.
Eventually Gorrell had decided to ask Montano for an accounting and came to the Philippines to do so – and the response from Montano was an attempt to have him expelled from the Philippines. In addition, Gorrell alleges that Montano stole several valuable objects from him on the final night, including the files for their business ventures and objects with sentimental value.

Gorrell has since returned to Australia, and is now working on evidence in order to file a case for International Money Transfer Fraud against his ex. In the meantime, he has been using his blog not only to repeatedly ask for his money back, but also to campaign for various issues.

Montano has since involved his family in the imbroglio: his mother has gone on the record as saying that Gorrell made a gift to her son of AUS$70,000; his sisters have denied receiving any money from the Australian.

Gorrell has posted multiple money-transfer forms and receipts to the blog that seem to refute the Montanos’ statements, as well as at least one document that seems to show Montano repeatedly asking him for large amounts of money.

Given that both parties are now claiming to be getting ready to file criminal cases against each other in their respective countries, the important questions now are: Can the blog itself, and all statements within, stand as evidence in a court of law? And, given the inflammatory nature of some of the blog’s entries, can the blogger escape accusations of libel from the Montanos and other mentioned personalities on the blog?

It’s a legal thicket that nonetheless is being followed by lawyers in the Philippines and the rest of Asia. Gorrell himself claims to have been told that his blog has become a “case study” for jurisprudence in online matters in the region. Given the current campaign for the decriminalization of libel, thanks in no small part to the influence of the Internet, the brouhaha surrounding Gorrell’s blog has given it a place in the dossiers for and against that campaign.

Current legal definitions of libel require a statement to satisfy the following criteria in order for it to be considered “libelous”:

1. The statement should have been published.
2. The statement should have enough information in order for the subject to be identified by the public.
3. The statement should have malicious intent against the subject.

Failure of a statement to fulfill any of the three criteria will mean it cannot be libel; but the third criterion is the most important: the absence of malice means there is no libel.
In the case of the Gorrell blog, all three criteria are called into question:

1. Does publication on the Internet count as “publication” per se? The subject gets even more thorny given that there is currently confusion over what blogs are: are they private spaces in the “Dear Diary” sense, or are they public spaces because they are online and – in Gorrell’s case – extremely well-known already?

2. Are the subjects of the blog posts identifiable? And, sub-questions: since libel for private persons is not the same as libel for public personalities i.e. celebrities, should Montano and his family be considered as private citizens or public personalities for the sake of the libel argument?

3. Are Gorrell’s statements intended to be malicious or not?
With the Internet now a contentious arena where national and international laws are being contested, the outcome of this matter – and, indeed, its very conduct – seem to be enough reason for the international, online, and legal communities to keep a close watch on this blog, its owner, and the matters outlined therein.

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