Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

Journalists love to
whinge about Australia’s restrictive defamation laws, and many a long
hour has been spent discussing the swimming pools media proprietors
have bought for for the likes of Bob Hawke, Jeff Kennett and other
litigious public figures.

But the biggest payout in Australian
media history, the one that should really make journalists suck in
their breath, is the reported $9 million plus (including costs) awarded
to the late Sydney lawyer John Marsden, who was accused by the Seven
network of having sex with under-age rent boys.

The case dragged on for years, and according to a report in today’s Bulletin he paid a heavy price – the case killed him. Nick Tabakoff writes

“My cancer was caused by the stress caused by Kerry
Stokes,” he said. “I had doctors’ reports that said the stress I
suffered from the case was causing the cancer, and he was sponsoring
the case.”

Marsden was speaking of Australia’s largest
defamation case, which he had brought against the Stokes-controlled
Channel Seven. Its Today Tonight and Witness shows had
accused him of sex with under aged boys in the mid-1990s.
Understandably, Stokes and Seven defended their case vigorously. After
110-plus witnesses and 229 hearing days, Marsden was awarded $525,000
in damages. Years of appeals later, in 2003, Marsden won a settlement
observers put at between $9m and $12m, including costs.

Marsden told The Bulletin
he had never doubted he would win the case: “I know my sexual desires,
and they’re not into young people.” But that didn’t mean he was going
to forget those he held responsible. “I’m a Catholic. I meditate within
the framework of my church. I don’t have any anger, except towards
Kerry Stokes.”

Now that Marsden is dead we can say what
we like about him, and there are plenty of people who argue he was a
deeply flawed and ethically shaky character who deserved what he got –
millions of dollars from Kerry Stokes and courtroom battle that by his
own account eventually did him in.

It’s the sort of bitter-sweet
outcome Stokes might want to muse on as he seeks justice in his own
mammoth case in the Federal Court.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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