Daily Telegraph denounces sexual harassment, calls for law reform after court’s Geoffrey Rush decision

The Daily Telegraph has said losing its appeal in the Geoffrey Rush defamation case “exposes the inadequacies of Australia’s defamation laws” and condemned sexual harassment in workplaces.

This morning, the Federal Court dismissed every one of the newspaper’s grounds of appeal, and stood by a decision to award Rush $2.87m in damages – the highest defamation payout to a single person in Australian history.

Editor of The Daily Telegraph, Ben English, said the paper’s reporting was based on a public statement from the Sydney Theatre Company, which said an actor had made a complaint against Rush, who played King Lear in a 2015-16 production.


That actor was Eryn Jean Norvill, who was not named in The Daily Telegraph’s reports, and did not provide a comment for them. She later agreed to give evidence in the trial when her identity was revealed.

“While we respect the findings of the Full Court the Rush case exposes the inadequacies of Australia’s defamation laws and heightens the need for urgent legislative reform to enable public debate and to encourage women to come forward with their concerns,” English said.

“In that context we are very disappointed that the appellate court did not reverse Justice Wigney’s findings as to the credibility of Eryn Jean Norvill or reverse His Honour’s decision to exclude the testimony of Yael Stone. We support both women in their decision to share their complaints.”

Australian actor and Orange is the New Black star Stone was revealed to be the ‘Witness X’ referred to in an attempted amended defence the Telegraph. Justice Wigney rejected this application. While the newspaper appealed this decision, the appeal judges today said Justice Wigney’s choice was “hardly surprising”.

In an interview with the New York Times, Stone then claimed Rush danced naked in front of her and used a mirror to spy on her while she was showering during a Belvoir Theatre production of The Diary of A Madman in 2010-11. Rush denied those allegations.

One front page bore the headline: “King Leer”

“We will continue to report on the issues such as these which are of great concern to the Australian public,” English added.

“As stated by High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel last week, there is no place for sexual harassment in any workplace.”

Chief Justice Kiefel’s comments were made in the context of a High Court inquiry, which, as revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald, found that former High Court judge Dyson Heydon had sexually harassed a number of associates and senior figures in the legal industry.

Last year, when Justice Wigney ruled in favour of Rush, he said: “This was, in all circumstances, a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind.” In response, Nationwide News, The Daily Telegraph’s publisher, launched its appeal.

Part of the appeal concerned the amount of damages, but Justices White, Gleeson, and Wheelahan said that $2.87m in damages is “appropriately high but not manifestly excessive having regard to the extremely serious nature of the imputations that were conveyed by the publications, the extent of publication, the hurt and distress caused to Mr Rush by the publications, the conduct of Nationwide News that aggravated the harm caused to Mr Rush and the harm caused to Mr Rush’s reputation”.

The amount of damages had to reflect that the stories – one of which carried the front-page headline “King Leer” – left Rush “devastated and distressed and consumed by grief”, the judgment said.

At the end of last year, The Daily Telegraph settled a defamation case brought against it by former Macquarie Media CEO Adam Lang. In the same month, it also apologised to actor John Jarrett as part of another defamation settlement.


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