Joe Hockey has won his defamation case against Fairfax Media, which was ordered to pay the Treasurer $200,000 in damages.
Federal Court justice Richard White found that a poster destined to be displayed outside news stands, and two tweets from The Age‘s twitter account were defamatory, but the article was not. Mr Hockey’s other claims were dismissed.
The Sydney Morning Herald published a front page headline on May 5, 2014 that said “Treasurer for sale” in relation to political donations from the North Sydney Forum.
Justice White found that Fairfax may have been able to defend its headline had it not been motivated by “malice”.
“Mr Goodsir had lost objectivity. If it was not for his desire to get back at Mr Hockey, I consider it probable that he would have selected a less provocative headline,” Justice White said in his ruling.
During the hearings in March 2014, the court heard SMH editor Darren Goodsir had written in emails to journalist Sean Nicholls “Given what [The Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden] and I endured last week with Hockey, I want to have this nailed to the cross in more ways than one,” the ABC reported.
Mr Hockey’s lawyers had argued for damages at the top rate of $350,000 in March, Fairfax Media reported.
The court awarded Mr Hockey $120,000 in damages for the poster and $80,000 for the tweets.
Defamation can be dismissed if the defendant can prove one of four defences such as the defamatory statement being true.
Fairfax’s lawyers argued that they were allowed to make statements like the one it did about Mr Hockey because it fits with the role of a newspaper to hold a politician to account, the so-called qualified privilege defence.
Credit agencies, for instance, are protected from defamation as their reports can be libel but it’s their role to make the statement.
On Tuesday, Justice White ruled Fairfax’s lawyers had not been successful in making the qualified privilege defence.
Mr Hockey had claimed the headline and the articles were motivated by “personal spite and ill will”, Fairfax reported.
But Fairfax lawyers argued the statements did not imply Mr Hockey was corrupt or someone who accepted bribes.
When that argument failed, Fairfax argued the matters in the story were in the public interest and their actions in publishing the story were reasonable.