The cost of defamation

The cost of defamation

Defamation cases cost the ABC dearly. In a recent report to the Senate, we learnt that the ABC has spent more than $700k settling defamation battles since 2020. But the total costs are likely to be greater and they don’t include the personal pressure that’s brought to bear on the ABC’s investigative teams.

Legal statue

In this article, Janine Kitson describes her attendance at a defamation case that’s currently before the court in Sydney.

From 31 July to Friday 4 August I attended the Federal Court and sat in the public gallery listening to the Heston Russell v Australian Broadcasting Corporation & Ors case.

It was absolutely riveting. 

The defamation case was brought by former commando Heston Russell, who is suing the ABC and investigative journalists Mark Willacy and Josh Robertson. 

Russell’s suit revolves around two online news articles, a television news item and a radio broadcast published in 2020 and 2021 about the November platoon’s alleged actions in Afghanistan in 2012. Russell commanded the platoon.

I was able to listen to Heston Russell’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC cross examine the ABC Investigative team including Mark Willacy, Joshua Robertson, Alexandra Blucher, Daniel Oaks and Jo Puccini, the Head of ABC Investigations and Current Affairs.

It was fascinating, shocking and chilling to observe the pressure placed on the ABC team but they were certainly up to the challenge.

During her cross examination, Ms Puccini told how a rival radio station derided ‘all’ of the ABC’s alleged war crimes coverage and said, “I mean, it was a culture war”.

Consistently each ABC witness disagreed with barrister Sue Chrysanthou’s SC proposition that they had not followed the highest journalistic standards.

The ABC's defence relies on the new public interest defence that was introduced in most states and territories in July 2021 but has yet to be tested in a full trial in Australia.

I am in total awe of the professionalism of the ABC. They were magnificent! 

Janine Kitson
Convenor of the Northern Suburbs of Sydney Branch
ABC Friends NSW & ACT