Australia’s major media organisations have joined together to contest actress Rebel Wilson’s $4.5 million defamation payout from Bauer media in an effort to defend freedom of speech.
On Monday, Nine, Seven, Fairfax Media, the ABC and News Corp filed an application in the Victorian Supreme Court’s Court of Appeal to join Bauer’s appeal against the amount of damages awarded to Wilson.
In September 2017, Supreme Court judge Justice John Dixon ruled Wilson would receive special damages of $3.9m and general damages of $650,000 after she argued a series of articles in Woman’s Day, Australian Women’s Weekly, New Weekly and OK! were defamatory.
That payout far exceeded the $389,500 statutory cap on damages for non-economic loss and made history as Australia’s biggest-ever defamation win.
The competing media organisations are applying to join Bauer’s appeal proceedings on the basis they will all be “substantially affected by the outcome”.
In the affidavit filed today, the lawyer representing the parties, Justin Quill of Macpherson Kelley, argued the payout would “remove the certainty otherwise provided by the statutory cap on damages”.
Mr Quill added the ruling could, “disturb the balance between, on the one hand, avoiding unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression, and, on the other, the provision of effective and fair remedies for persons whose reputations are harmed”.
“The fact six media companies have combined demonstrates how serious the issue is,” Mr Quill wrote in the Herald Sun.
Wilson was awarded the payout after a jury found the Bauer articles painted the Australian actress as a serial liar about her age and childhood and had damaged her reputation, costing her major film roles.
At the time of the ruling, Justice Dixon said: “The publication had a long-lasting and profound impact on Ms Wilson, both physically and psychologically, and caused her significant distress. Substantial damages are necessary to compensate her for the injury to her feelings.”
Since the ruling, Wilson has appeared in Pitch Perfect 3 and upcoming film The Hustle. She had previously promised to donate the damages to charity.
The matter will return to court on April 18.