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News Corp loses $2.9m Rush defamation appeal

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Three judges have dismissed an appeal against a finding the Daily Telegraph defamed actor Geoffrey Rush, and against the awarding of $2.9 million in damages.

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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.

Justice Michael Wigney in the Federal Court in 2019 ruled a 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.

Justices Richard White, Jacqueline Gleeson and Michael Wheelahan on Thursday dismissed all grounds of appeal.

One involved challenging the finding the publication implied the actor is a pervert, but 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 News also challenged Justice Wigney’s finding Erin Jean Norvill, who played the role of Cordelia 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 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.


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