In line with the new norm for Coalition ministers, NSW deputy premier John Barilaro filed to sue Friendlyjordies presenter, Jordan Shanks, for defamation on 27 May, claiming the YouTube political satirist portrayed him as being corrupt in two video clips posted in the second half of 2020.
In what’s also becoming a Liberal Nationals habit, Barilaro is targeting an online social media provider. The NSW Nationals leader is suing Google for failing to remove the videos in question from its YouTube platform after the politician’s lawyers made repeated requests for it to do so.
However, Barilaro didn’t stop there, as he’s since used his political clout to see Friendlyjordies producer, Kristo Langker, arrested by the NSW Police Fixated Persons Investigations Unit and charged with two counts of stalking.
There were two incidents that are claimed to have amounted to stalking. The first involved Shanks dressed as a Super Mario character and Langker posing as his lawyer approaching the deputy premier at a politics in the pub night. The second saw Langker approach him in the street.
Both these tongue-in-cheek incidents were filmed by the alleged perpetrator for later posting on the Friendlyjordies channel.
Indeed, the theatre of the absurd aspect to this whole series of events would be laughable if it didn’t further verify the growing trend in Coalition ministers using legal institutions to silence its critics.
The evolving legal climate
Lawyer representing Langker, Mark Davis, said he’s waiting on the police case containing the evidence that propelled detectives into throwing his client “on the ground and handcuffing him, and then violently entering his home, after he was in custody, and assaulting his mother and girlfriend.”
“In normal cases, it would be most unusual to be arrested on the spot for a stalk and intimidate charge,” Davis told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “You certainly wouldn’t be taken away in handcuffs.”
The legal practitioner explained that stalk and intimidate is most often applied in domestic violence incidents.
However, in DV cases, police usually respond initially by placing an alleged offender on an apprehended violence order (AVO), which restricts them from approaching the person who made the complaint. An AVO “creates an immediate and very effective legal barrier” and it’s not a charge.
After the issuing of an AVO, officers go on to thoroughly investigate whether a criminal charge should be laid. And this process usually takes a number of weeks prior to any decision being made on whether to arrest a subject of an AVO.
However, in Langker’s case, it appears that detectives arrived at his home, forcefully placed him in custody and charged him within hours of any complaint being made.
The new state order
According to a 14 July Friendlyjordies clip, Langker was leaving a regular university lecture, when he happened upon Barilaro getting into a car, and as he already had a copy of the lawsuit document filed against Shanks, which included a mistaken detail, he approached the minister about it.
Langker filmed the incident, which saw him walk up to Barilaro at around 12.30 pm on 4 June. The deputy premier is seen to simply ignore the 21-year-old. He continues speaking on his cell phone, and then gets into the vehicle, which is driven away.
At 5 pm that same Friday afternoon, three plainclothes detectives from the Fixated Persons Investigations Unit turned up at the Langkers’ family home in Dulwich Hill, wrestled the young man to the ground, handcuffed him, placed him in an unmarked police car and took him away.
Launched in May 2017, the Fixated Persons Investigations Unit was established in response to the Lindt Café siege to complement the NSW Counter Terrorism Unit, so as to investigate and deal with persons who become obsessed with public officials and don’t fit the category of terrorist.
This basically means that detectives who are trained to locate potential offenders, like Lindt Café siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis, arrested and charged a social media satirist who was obviously aiming to cause a lark, just hours after he spoke to the deputy premier on the street.
Sued into silence
Of course, Langker’s arrest is intimately linked to the defamation suit filed against his boss Shanks, which also comes after similar such cases have been filed by federal Coalition ministers Christian Porter and Peter Dutton with the apparent aim of shutting down criticism in the media.
Davis is also acting on behalf of Shanks in the defamation case. “How do you even answer a civil allegation while at the same time your producer is facing criminal charges for essentially the same material?” he asked.
“It is a double-barrel shotgun: a very delicate defence to answer in a criminal court and a civil court at the same time,” the lawyer continued. “In my view, it comprises both.”
Porter has dropped his defamation case against the ABC over its reporting on rape allegations made against him. Although the former AG wasn’t named in the article in question, he was claiming he could still be identified. Barilaro is evidently engaging the same lawyer as Porter: Sue Chrysanthou.
Dutton has filed to sue refugee activist Shane Bazzi for referring to the defence minister as a “rape apologist” in a tweet. The comment was written in relation to a statement the minister made regarding the Porter allegations. This case may now be settled out of court.
The bigger picture
“There does seem to be a pattern emerging,” Davis suggested. And he added that the implication of joining YouTube to the Shanks case “is an existential threat to all of those social media platforms if YouTube is found to have some sort of editorial control” to the multitude of content it hosts.
The former SBS journalist further drew a correlation between the proposal to sue Google/YouTube and the Morrison government’s recent legislating to require social media companies pay publication tax to Australian mainstream media organisations.
“If Australia wins in the Barilaro case and holds YouTube responsible for anything that is published on their platform, well, it’s good night social media,” Davis concluded. “Then we’re back with Murdoch and Fairfax. Clearly, that would make some people very happy.”