Ronan Farrow says #MeToo reporting made possible by US first amendment

Investigative reporting in the US that sparked the global #MeToo movement would not have been possible anywhere else in the world, even in developed countries such as Australia, the New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow has said.

Farrow, whose investigation last October exposed sexual harassment and assault allegations against the Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, told a Melbourne writers’ festival event on Thursday night there were “stark differences” in what could be published in his country compared with the UK and Australia, which do not have first amendment protections for freedom of the press.

Tracey Spicer, a journalist who has spearheaded Australia’s #MeToo movement and who interviewed Farrow in Melbourne, said local defamation laws had made it difficult to pursue and publish some stories.

Farrow said that in countries such as Pakistan, journalists could face imprisonment and death for doing their jobs, whereas in developed countries it was more a problem of intimidation by powerful people and institutions.

“There’s a really stark difference between [the US] and Europe and even, I gather, in Australia … I feel very fortunate to be working in the US because we do have this extraordinary protection of the first amendment and it does make a vast difference.

“I hope people pay attention to how vital the press has been in the United States. I don’t think it could have happened almost anywhere else.”

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to six charges of sexual assault and rape against three women. One of his key accusers in Farrow’s investigation, the Italian actor and director Asia Argento, alleged the producer raped her during the Cannes film festival in 1997.

Argento is now accused of allegedly sexually assaulting a former actor, Jimmy Bennett, in 2013 when he was 17, and paying him US$380,000 in hush money last year, leading to claims that she is a hypocrite.

Farrow said: “Obviously, victims can also be perpetrators.” The claims against Argento needed to be investigated, he said.

But “this idea that misconduct by victims also invalidates an entire conversation about sexual assault and harassment is not one I take particularly seriously”, he added. It was a “straw-man argument” that every time a woman did something wrong it invalidated serious criminal charges against powerful men.

Asked his view of the comedian Louis CK returning to the comedy circuit this week, less than 10 months after admitting to sexual misconduct, including masturbating in front of women, Farrow said there was a risk of a “lazy conflation of criminal activity and non-criminal activity”.

He did not want to undermine the women’s allegations, but “it’s not for me to moralise or prognosticate when people should come back after an allegation, it’s case by case. Louis CK was not Harvey Weinstein.”

Farrow was cautiously optimistic that the conversation sparked by #MeToo would create lasting cultural change, but “a lot of the time steps are taken that are skin-deep”. Positive signs included moves by some US states to ban non-disclosure agreements in certain cases, and to waive statute of limitations restrictions in cases of serious violent crimes.


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