Daily Tele­graph ar­ti­cles on Ge­of­frey Rush 'ir­re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ism', court told

The Guardian Australia - - News - Michael Mc­Gowan

The Daily Tele­graph’s re­port­ing of al­le­ga­tions against Ge­of­frey Rush is “the most reck­lessly ir­re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ism that has come be­fore a court in this coun­try”, the Os­car-win­ning ac­tor’s bar­ris­ter has told a court.

Rush’s bar­ris­ters, Bruce McClin­tock SC and Sue Chrysan­thou, be­gan their clos­ing ad­dress to the court on Thurs­day as the al­most three-week long defama­tion trial ap­proached its con­clu­sion.

McClin­tock told the fed­eral court jus­tice Michael Wigney that the Tele­graph’s ar­ti­cles about Rush were “an ex­am­ple of reck­less and in­deed cruel ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity”.

“The ef­fect of these ar­ti­cles on my client … the de­struc­tive ef­fect, is ap­palling,” he said. “Do they care? Did they think about what they were do­ing? The an­swer is clearly not.”

He said the Syd­ney paper had the “power to smash peo­ple’s rep­u­ta­tions ... power to de­stroy their ca­reers, with­out re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

“This is the most reck­lessly ir­re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ism that has come be­fore a court in this coun­try,” he said.

Rush is su­ing the tabloid over a se­ries of ar­ti­cles pub­lished in Novem­ber and December 2017 al­leg­ing he had be­haved in­ap­pro­pri­ately to­wards a cast­mate, Eryn Jean Norvill, dur­ing a 2015 pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s King Lear.

One front-page story was head­lined “King Leer” and fea­tured a por­trait of Rush in char­ac­ter.

On Wed­nes­day the Tele­graph’s bar­ris­ter, Tom Black­burn SC, told the court Norvill had been an “ut­terly hon­est” wit­ness who had noth­ing to gain from giv­ing ev­i­dence against Rush ex­cept “stress and anx­i­ety”.

He said McClin­tock had failed to ex­plain what mo­tive Norvill would have had for in­vent­ing her claims against Rush.

But Chrysan­thou said it was not the court’s role to es­tab­lish her mo­ti­va­tion. “Her own ev­i­dence was rife with con­tra­dic­tions, in­con­sis­ten­cies and re­cent in­ven­tion,” she said.

“Mr Black­burn [spoke] over and over yes­ter­day [about] Ms Norvill’s mo­tive. What could pos­si­bly be her mo­tive to lie. Who cares? That’s not your hon­our’s job, it’s not our job, to spec­u­late about what is go­ing on in her mind.

“Mo­tive is ir­rel­e­vant ... peo­ple lie.

We don’t know why.”

Chrysan­thou said Wigney would have to weigh Norvill’s ev­i­dence against the tes­ti­mony of other wit­nesses in­clud­ing the play’s di­rec­tor, Neil Arm­field, and co-stars Robyn Nevin and He­len Bu­day, who tes­ti­fied dur­ing the trial that they had not seen any in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct.

She also re­ferred to “a sea of ab­sent wit­nesses” in­clud­ing a fel­low costar, He­len Thomp­son, and the Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany stage man­ager Ge­or­gia Gil­bert, to whom, ac­cord­ing to Norvill’s tes­ti­mony, Rush had also be­haved in­ap­pro­pri­ately dur­ing the play.

“Imag­ine Mr Rush be­haved like this on a daily ba­sis,” Chrysan­thou said.

“How is it pos­si­ble if Ms Norvill is telling the truth that not one per­son saw it? [And] she goes even fur­ther. He wasn’t just do­ing it to me, he was do­ing it to all these other peo­ple.”

In her ev­i­dence Norvill sug­gested other cast mem­bers had “en­abled” Rush’s al­leged be­hav­iour, and sug­gested that a gen­er­a­tion gap be­tween cast mem­bers may have meant some did not see his be­hav­iour as in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

But Chrysan­thou said the sug­ges­tion that “older mem­bers of the cast thought it was OK doesn’t make sense”.

She pointed to the ev­i­dence of Mark Win­ter, a cast mem­ber of a sim­i­lar age to Norvill who gave ev­i­dence that he had seen Rush make grop­ing mo­tions above her.

“Mr Win­ter didn’t even reg­is­ter it as an in­ci­dent,” she said. “He never spoke to Ms Norvill about it, he never spoke to any­one about it. He never even thought about it un­til three years later.”

Wigney re­marked: “He ob­vi­ously didn’t think much of it.”

Ear­lier on Thurs­day the judge said “bad puns” in the Tele­graph’s head­lines may have un­der­mined Rush’s de­nials.

“[That] ar­gu­ment would have sig­nif­i­cantly more force if not for the sube­d­i­tors,” he said. “They just can’t help them­selves with their bad puns. Bad puns is prob­a­bly putting it in mild terms.”

Wigney said there was “some con­sid­er­able merit” in Black­burn’s ar­gu­ment that the ar­ti­cle had em­pha­sised Rush’s de­nials.

But, he said, “the prob­lem” were the head­lines such as “King Leer” and “Star’s bard be­hav­iour”, which he likened to “very large puffs of smoke sug­gest­ing there’s a fire there”.

Rush’s lawyers have ar­gued the ar­ti­cles con­vey a string of false and defam­a­tory im­pu­ta­tions about him, in­clud­ing that he is a “pervert” and a “sex­ual preda­tor”.

But Black­burn told the court on Thurs­day that terms such as “pervert” and “sex­ual preda­tor” were not con­veyed in the ar­ti­cles. He likened the term “pervert” to the be­hav­iour of a “Peep­ing Tom” en­gag­ing in “bizarre and dis­gust­ing” be­hav­iour.

Pho­to­graph: David Gray/Reuters

Ge­of­frey Rush’s bar­ris­ter says the Daily Tele­graph has the ‘power to smash peo­ple’s rep­u­ta­tions’.

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