The critic- the great arbiter of public taste- is under attack after a landmark court ruling in Australia declaring a review defamatory and allowing the reviewee to sue for damages. The case concerns a negative review of Coco Roco, a now-defunct Sydney restaurant, written by the Sydney Morning Herald's Mathew Evans. The owners of Coco Roco, who poured $3 million into refurbishing the restaurant, claim the bad review but them out of business.
Toronto theatre critics Richard Ouzounian and Kamal Al-Solaylee should be watching this case closely. Their relationship with the struggling theatre community has been, shall we say, fractious of late. It wouldn't take much for a disgruntled producer to go after them for their frequently snarky and vitriolic reviews.
Critics are an often-annoying, but important part of our cultural landscape. However, irresponsible criticism (and I'm not suggesting Evans is guilty of this- I haven't read his review) can damage individual artists and businesses. So, how do you keep critics accountable? I'm not sure litigation is the answer, particularly since lawsuits have a chilling effect on other critics. I suspect some sort of voluntary code of conducts and ethics would encourage the critical classes to keep their reviews above board.