Alan Jones's comments about Wagner family 'unable to be defended', his lawyer says
A barrister representing the broadcaster Alan Jones has said some of the shock-jock’s defamatory statements about the Wagner family “are unable to be defended” as discussion in the Brisbane supreme court turned to potential damages.
Justice Peter Flanagan told the court it was his “preliminary view” that the court now needed to “identify an appropriate range” for damages.
John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner are seeking $4.8m in damages from Jones, Harbour Radio, 4BC and journalist Nick Cater over 32 broadcasts in 2014 and 2015.The brothers claim they were accused on-air of the deaths of 12 people in the town of Grantham during the 2011 Queensland floods when one of the walls of the Lockyer Valley quarry they owned collapsed.
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Jones admitted during the trial his comments about the Wagner brothers were savage but he stood by those comments.
Justice Flanagan said he had “not encountered before” a defamation case where defendants, in this case Jones and Cater, repeated defamatory statements but did not seek to prove their truth through expert evidence.
“Therefore your case can only be established in terms of substantial truth by reference to expert evidence,” Flanagan told Jones’s barrister Robert Anderson.
“[Jones] repeated his belief in the truth of [his] comments. That must have, on my preliminary view, a fairly obvious impact on the need for this court to identify an appropriate range of damages for this,” Flanagan said.
Anderson earlier told the court “there are some meanings that are not able to be defended”. He told the court Jones would drop a key defence of “honest opinion”.
Anderson said some of the claims for damages were “excessive” and made comparisons to the defamation finding in favour of Rebel Wilson in her case against Bauer Media in Victoria. On Thursday Wilson’s payout was reduced from $4.5m to $600,000, after Bauer Media appealed in the supreme court.
He said glossy magazines had “a far greater ... extended reach” than Jones’s radio program, which is broadcast in NSW and Queensland.
He said the “shelf life” of those magazines, compared with a radio broadcast, also meant damages in that case should outweigh any potential finding against Jones.
“Ms Wilson ... was known to many more people than the plaintiffs would have been in this case,” Anderson said.
Barrister for the Wagners, Tom Blackburn, said his clients were accused of far worse than Wilson.
“Can I just say this your honour, Ms Wilson was called a liar,” Blackburn said.
“Being called a liar is just one of the things, one of the many things my clients were called. They were called murderers. Ms Wilson was not accused of murder.
“She was not accused of [intimi-
dation] or thuggery ... she was not accused of bribery.
But the plaintiffs were accused of these things again and again your honour.
totality of these publications was a shocking example of abuse of power, and power without responsibility,” Blackburn said.
“It calls for an award in respect of each plaintiff that is going to be sufficient ... to convince Mr Jones’s devoted followers, who write to him and hang on every word that he says, to convince them that his charges are baseless.”
The case continues.
The Wagner family is seeking damages of $4.8m over broadcasts on the Grantham floods.