Alan Jones's com­ments about Wag­ner fam­ily 'un­able to be de­fended', his lawyer says

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Ben Smee

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.

“The

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.

Pho­to­graph: Glenn Hunt/AAP

The Wag­ner fam­ily is seek­ing dam­ages of $4.8m over broad­casts on the Gran­tham floods.

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