Australia’s largest media organisations are teaming up to contest the massive $4.5 million in damages awarded to Rebel Wilson, after a judge found Bauer Media had defamed her in a series of articles.

The ABC, Fairfax Media, News Corp, Seven, Nine, and Macquarie Media are seeking to have their say in Bauer Media’s appeal of the decision, arguing the payout could have an unwanted chilling effect on public interest journalism.

Wilson claimed the articles cost her lucrative film roles and damaged her reputation in the industry. Justice John Dixon awarded Wilson $3.9 million in special damages, and $650,000 of general damages – which included aggravated damages, awarded for what Justice Dixon argued to be exceptional conduct on Bauer Media’s behalf.

The media organisations argue that payout far outstrips the statutory cap of $389,500 permitted for non-economic loss, and sets a worrying precedent exposing media organisations to mammoth defamation claims.

In the Herald Sun, media lawyer Justin Quill wrote “freedom of speech is important and the media’s ability to uncover dodgy politicians or expose unscrupulous business practices benefits society,” and argued the risk of such huge payouts would stifle honest reporting.

Quill said it was vitally important to contest the massive aggravated damages payout as “in my experience, defamation proceedings against media organisations almost always include a claim for aggravated damages.”

Earlier, Wilson said she’d pass on the damages to charitable causes.

As it stands, this one is set to head back to court on April 18.

Source: The Australian
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