The Australian ordered to pay $100k to former journalist over Media Diary claims he was ‘habitual’ drunk

The publisher of The Australian has been told to pay $100,000 in damages to former Townsville Bulletin reporter Malcolm Weatherup over a Media Diary piece which claimed he was “habitually intoxicated”.


A jury at Queensland Supreme Court found the piece, published in June 2014, defamed Weatherup and a judge awarded aggravated damages for defamation, saying its defence fell “well short of proof”.

The item in Diary published in June 2014 related to Weatherup’s conviction on a charge of wilful damage after kicking a neighbour’s car, the culmination of a long-running dispute over poor parking behaviour, which saw Weatherup handed a good behaviour bond.

Weatherup was given a good behaviour bond after admitting damaging his neighbour's car. Source: Townsville Bulletin

Weatherup was given a good behaviour bond after admitting damaging his neighbour’s car. Source: Townsville Bulletin

The jury found that there had been two imputations about Weatherup’s character in the Diary item.

“That the plaintiff is a person habitually intoxicated,” and “that the plaintiff’s habitual intoxication was sufficient to incur the wrath of judges, thereby causing his being obliged to leave the employment of the Townsville Bulletin.”

Handing down the order to pay aggravated damages, Justice David North said Nationwide News’ defence “falls well short of proof”.

“It is likely, in my view, that it cannot have escaped the defendant and its legal advisers in the preparation for the trial that the evidence of the witnesses to be called in the defendant’s case would fall well short of proving habitual intoxication on the part of the plaintiff with the consequence that the plaintiff was obliged to leave his employment,” Judge North said in his judgement.

“Nor have I overlooked the circumstance that, although the article was published in a national newspaper and in the ‘media’ section, the plaintiff did not call witnesses to give evidence of the matters pointed to by the defendant.

“In the circumstances I assess the general damages, including aggravated damages, recoverable by the plaintiff against the defendant at $100,000.”

Weatherup, who now writes a blog, The Magpie’s Nest, had been the Bulletin’s court reporter for a number of years and was well known in media circles having worked for a number of radio and TV stations in Sydney in the 1970s and 1980s.

He was also well known as the owner of  a wine bar and restaurant, Weatherup’s, which was a popular haunt for journalists in the 1980s.

News Corp declined to comment on the case but it is understood it may appeal the verdict.


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