Chinese-Australian businessman Chau Chak Wing has been awarded $590,000 after a judge found he was defamed by an ABC program that portrayed him as a spy.
The philanthropist sued in the Federal Court over a 2017 Four Corners episode, “Power and Influence”, which was a joint investigation with Fairfax Media, which has since been bought by Nine Entertainment.
Dr Chau, who is an Australian citizen, claimed the program carried six defamatory imputations including that he “betrayed” his country, is a member of China’s Communist Party and made enormous donations to influence politicians.
Justice Steven Rares on Tuesday ruled in favour of Dr Chau and awarded $590,000 in damages.
He also awarded costs against the ABC and ordered the broadcaster to remove parts of the episode from online platforms.
Journalist Nick McKenzie was also a respondent in the case.
In a statement, Dr Chau’s lawyer Mark O’Brien welcomed the result.
“Dr Chau is very pleased to have his reputation restored after such a baseless attack by Nick McKenzie and Four Corners,” he said.
The ABC previously had a truth defence struck out, leaving only the question of whether the imputations were conveyed.
The court was told the episode – a result of a five-month joint investigation – attracted an “extensive” audience of more than a million people.
It was also accompanied by an online article.
In October, Dr Chau told the court the program left him struggling to sleep and feeling “distressed”.
His daughter, Winky Chow, said she fielded more than a dozen phone calls after it aired from shocked family friends.
Character witnesses described the businessman as a generous but “quiet giver”, with a high reputation for integrity and a passion of advancing Australia-China relations through education.
Dr Chau’s barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, said the episode painted his client as “an international man of mystery”.
Mr McClintock likened the program’s opening to a spy novel and accused the ABC and Nine of failing to keep their “tabloid instincts” under control.
Barrister Matt Collins QC, for the broadcaster, accepted the episode raised suspicion but said the case was an “over-elaborate search for hidden meanings”.
Dr Collins said the ordinary, reasonable viewer would know that an episode of Four Corners is long-form journalism that does not rely on “nudges, winks, hidden meanings or the tropes of tabloid journalism”.
Dr Chau has previously been awarded $280,000 in a separate defamation case against the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald over a 2015 article which made similar allegations of bribery.