Three Federal Court judges have dismissed an appeal by Nationwide News against a finding it defamed actor Geoffrey Rush and against the awarding of $2.9 million in damages.
The Daily Telegraph’s publisher and journalist Jonathon Moran were found to have been reckless regarding the truth when they reported Rush had been accused of inappropriate behaviour during a 2015 Sydney theatre production of King Lear.
In the Federal Court in 2019, Justice Michael Wigney ruled a newspaper poster and two articles contained defamatory meanings – including that Rush was a pervert and sexual predator – and the publisher hadn’t proved they were true.
The Oscar winner was awarded $850,000 in general damages and about $2 million in special damages to cover past and future economic loss.
On Thursday, Justices Richard White, Jacqueline Gleeson and Michael Wheelahan dismissed all of publisher Nationwide News’ grounds of appeal.
One involved challenging the finding the publication implied Rush was a pervert. The full court stated a reasonable reader of the article was likely to reach that conclusion.
This was particularly so as the article concerned a man’s use of authority or stature in the workplace to obtain sexual gratification by inappropriately touching a non-consenting co-worker.
Nationwide also challenged Justice Wigney’s finding that Erin Jean Norvill, who played the role of Cordelia in the 2015 production and alleged Rush sexually assaulted her, was not a reliable witness.
This assessment was based on findings that were not “glaringly improbable” or inconsistent with incontrovertible facts, the full court concluded.
The court also noted Nationwide had not challenged the judge’s finding that Rush was a credible witness and evidence given by the production’s director and other cast members was honest and reliable.
The court said the award of $850,000 for non-economic loss was appropriately high but not manifestly excessive, given the serious nature of the defamation and other factors.
It also rejected claims the judge erred in his assessment of damages for economic loss.
In a statement, the paper said “urgent legislative reform” was required to “enable public debate and to encourage women to come forward with their concerns”.
“While we respect the findings of the Full Court, the Rush case exposes the inadequacies of Australia’s defamation laws,” editor Ben English said.