Geoffrey Rush was awarded a staggering $2.9 million after winning his defamation case against The Daily Telegraph. The Oscar-winner, 67, was wrongfully accused of “inappropriate behaviour” towards a female co-star in a series of reports by the newspaper publication.
Record breaking defamation payout: economic loss, compensatory aggravated damages
The record-breaking defamation payout included $1.98 million in damages for past and future economic loss, plus $43,302 in interest. This was additional to the $850,000 payout that Mr Rush received last month for compensatory and aggravated damages.
Daily Telegraph rejected $50,000 settlement offer
Mr Rush’s lawyers said Nationwide News, the publisher of The Daily Telegraph, had initially rejected a $50,000 settlement offer, to pursue a truth defence. Following a three-week trial in 2018, the news publication failed the truth defence. The Federal Court found the journalism reports to be “recklessly irresponsible” and “sensationalist.” Mr Rush then launched his jackpot-winning appeal against the news publication on the basis of apprehended bias.
Claims of sexual harassment by actress
Actress Eryn Jean Norvill, who starred alongside Mr Rush in the 2015-16 Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear, was not named in the Telegraph reports. Additionally, Ms Norvill did not co-operate with news publication before the publishing of the reports. However, Ms Norvill gave evidence at the trial afterwards, where she claimed the actor sexually harassed her. These allegations included him stroking down the side of her breast to her hip during a preview performance in late 2015.
Mr Rush strongly denied the claims and said he never intentionally touched Ms Norvill’s breast. After evidence was put forward to the Federal Court, Justice Wigney found the allegations against Mr Rush were “somewhat implausible and improbable.” This case has opened a national conversation about the utility of defamation law in the #MeToo movement era.
Defamation Law and the #MeToo Movement
Undeniably, the proliferation of the #MeToo movement has had significant impact in raising awareness on the extent of sexual abuse and harassment with personal stories published by survivors. In fact, more than 200 public figures including entertainment moguls, politicians, journalists, and actors, have lost their jobs after public allegations of sexual harassment were made.
However, it is unjust to argue defamation law stifles the #MeToo movement. It is important to recognise defamation law aims to balance the freedom of speech for all citizens and a person’s right to protecting their reputation.
When a person has had their character unfairly maligned, it can have serious effect on their job employment, personal health and well-being, and their relationships with family members, colleagues and the community at large. Thus, defamation law acts as a vehicle for the accused to also have their side of the story heard so a fair and just judgment can be achieved. Read our blog on the utility of defamation law in the #MeToo movement era here.
Other controversial defamation cases: Rebel Wilson and Alan Jones
In the controversial case of Rebel Wilson v Bauer Media Pty Ltd, Wilson successfully argued at the Victorian Supreme Court that the series of articles published in Woman’s Weekly and other titles led to her losing potential movie roles. It was found Bauer Media had ‘branded…[the plaintiff] a serial liar who had fabricated almost every aspect of her back story, from her name, to her age, to her childhood and upbringing, in order to make it in Hollywood.’ Wilson received a large payout for the bullying and wrongful accusations made by the print media.
Additionally, broadcaster Alan Jones and radio stations 2GB and 4BC were ordered to pay a total of $3.7 million in damages last year for defamation to four members of the Darling Downs-based Wagner family. Each member received $938,745 over defamatory comments made by the broadcasters about the collapse of a dam wall at a quarry, owned by the Wagner brothers, during the 2011 floods.
These are just a couple of many cases which show defamation law is the most appropriate avenue for the wrongfully accused to restore an injured reputation.
Our firm has won many defamation cases which you can read more about here.