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Tracey Spicer accuses three women of defamation after ABC #MeToo documentary

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPA

Journalist Tracey Spicer has accused three women of defamation after part one of her three-part documentary series Silent No More, about sexual assault and violence, was aired on the ABC.

Spicer, who hosts the documentary, drew criticism from sexual assault and family violence survivors and advocates after the ABC failed to blur out the names of some survivors of sexual abuse or harassment before the documentary was posted on its media-only TV publicity site.

Advocates argued Spicer should never have allowed the details to be filmed. A portion of one woman’s email to Spicer was filmed by camera crews without the woman’s consent, which was particularly concerning to the woman because her alleged abuser worked in the media.

Related: ABC apologises after sex abuse survivors’ names shown in Tracey Spicer #MeToo documentary

The ABC edited out the stories and details of the women affected before broadcasting the documentary.

On Monday, before part two of the documentary was aired on the ABC, lawyer Michael Bradley from Marque Lawyers confirmed three clients had received a letter from Spicer’s lawyers about social media posts in relation to the exposure of the survivors’ details. One client was the woman whose alleged abuser worked in the media. Another was not part of the documentary but is an advocate for assault survivors.

a close up of Tracey Spicer with pink hair looking at the camera: Lawyers for Tracey Spicer sent letters to three women accusing them of defamation and asking them to remove critical social media posts about Spicer, who hosts the ABC documentary Silent No More.

© Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPA
Lawyers for Tracey Spicer sent letters to three women accusing them of defamation and asking them to remove critical social media posts about Spicer, who hosts the ABC documentary Silent No More.

“It’s basically a letter of demand stating my clients have been defaming her and ordering certain social media posts be taken down,” Bradley told Guardian Australia. “They were pretty disappointed to receive the notices. They have no interest in getting involved in a legal fight.”

Spicer’s lawyers also demanded an apology from the women and $1,500 in legal costs from one of the women. Bradley told Guardian Australia the women had removed social media posts but no legal fees had been paid to Spicer, and they had not apologised.

After news of Spicer’s letter was published by News Ltd on Monday Spicer told Guardian Australia she had sent the notices to the women in order to avoid taking legal action.

“There are many factual inaccuracies in today’s article, including the headline,” she said in a written statement. “No notice has been issued to any of the women who appear in the documentary. Any legal notices issued on my behalf aimed to correct inaccuracies or misinformation placed in the public domain which were distressing to the survivors who bravely told their stories in Silent No More. These private notices were sent in a genuine attempt to resolve the issue outside of the litigation process.”

She did not expand on what the inaccuracies were.

When it was first revealed that the ABC had failed to blur the women’s names in the publicity version of documentary, it apologised for the error, saying: “We removed the program from our media portal as soon as we became aware of the error.

“The welfare of those who have suffered sexual abuse or harassment is of utmost importance to the ABC and we wish to assure them that Silent No More will treat these issues with respect and care while shining a light on the need for positive change in this area.”

Spicer said at the time she was “utterly gutted” by the error: “I apologise deeply and unreservedly to those whose names were visible in that initial version of the program.”

Spicer was promoting the documentary on Monday, tweeting: “Tonight’s episode will feature Mandy, one of the rare survivors who won her case, and dissects the backlash against #metoo.”

In November Spicer accepted the Sydney peace prize alongside the US-based founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, for her award-winning investigations into sexual harassment in media workplaces.

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