Sports broadcaster Erin Molan felt “sick, angry, upset, hurt and confused,” after reading news reports that prompted a barrage of online abuse, she has tearfully told a court.
The 39-year-old is suing the Daily Mail Australia for defamation over one article and two tweets that she says portray her as a racist after saying “hooka looka mooka hooka fooka” on air in May 2020.
The online news website is arguing a truth defence and denies running an illegitimate campaign against her.
Molan had never deliberately intended to mock an ethnic group, she told the Federal Court on Monday.
The June 2020 article claimed Molan had refused to apologise, which led to her feeling almost “incapable of functioning”, she said.
The content implied she was “an arrogant woman of white privilege,” with her conduct so offensive she had been “slammed,” by Pacific Islander women, among other defamatory imputations, her lawyer Kieran Smark SC said.
The Nine Network presenter was co-hosting The Continuous Call Team segment on the 2GB rugby league show when she referred to a previously heard story about Ray and Chris Warren mixing up the end of football player’s names.
Molan was speaking “gibberish”, Mr Smark said.
“The Daily Mail took something that perhaps was silly, perhaps was frivolous … and turned it into something which was sinister and immensely damaging to [her] reputation,” he said.
Molan was contacted by a journalist from the media outlet who she explained the reference to, and never said the phrase had been an “in-joke” that was later attributed to her.
Asked why her co-hosts did not laugh, she said there was a lot of background noise, but this was later described as them “sitting in awkward silence”.
Mr Smark said Daily Mail Australia editor Barclay Crawford sent an email to a journalist instructing “Let’s rip into this sheila”, before publishing an article that said she had “refused to apologise … for her jibe on live radio”.
Half an hour before publication she was contacted by another journalist asking if she was going to apologise, to which she never responded but she did address the incident on 2GB radio that afternoon.
“I would never intentionally offend or hurt anyone’s feelings. If I’ve done that I’m very sorry,” she said at the time.
She was soon subject of a “social media frenzy”, including vitriol from former NRL player John Hopoate.
“It was an inside joke between colleagues so it’s OK. Just like when I accidentally trip this RACIST BITCH over and she falls and scrapes her RACIST mouth on the ground,” he posted on Instagram.
“This is a response to the Daily Mail articles, not her conduct, but the news story the Daily Mail has manufactured out of a small, innocuous … or attempt at a funny piece on a live air show,” Mr Smark said.
Molan and her fellow co-hosts had made “poor attempts”, at a range of accents for many years, including American, Chinese, Scottish and Indian, she told the court.
And while she had “butchered”, some player’s names in the past she took pronunciation very seriously and “absolutely” held a respect for all people’s backgrounds.
Growing up, Molan moved through 16 schools and lived in Indonesia, where she learned the language and experienced the local culture, which she loved, the court was told.
She has done extensive work with various charities over the years and said it would be “almost impossible” for this work to continue if people believed she was a racist, because “it’s unacceptable”.
The broadcaster is due to be cross-examined by the Daily Mail‘s barrister Bruce McClintock SC on Tuesday.