Having failed to show up at the Australian Press Council last week to face a complaint I brought, it now emerges that blundering Daily Telegraph
columnist Piers Akerman has also tried very hard to avoid giving
evidence in a defamation case brought by professional NRMA
trouble-maker Richard Talbot.

Check out this entertaining transcript from day eight of the NSW Supreme Court battle on 16 June. Day nine unfolds today.

Piers
tried to defend a column blasting Talbot through interrogatories in
which he claimed to have spoken to former NRMA chairman Ross “Sir
Lunchalot” Turnbull and two other confidential sources. He then
recanted on the Turnbull source line, such that the judge was keen to
have Piers cross-examined. The News Ltd counsel insisted this couldn’t
happen “because Mr Molomby (Talbot’s counsel) would be at large in
cross-examining Mr Akerman about any relevant issue in the case.”

Oh dear, fancy having to actually answer questions.

Justice Gibson is not exactly impressed as this exchange shows:

HER HONOUR: It would be a very strong submission, because you see, I
don’t see Mr Akerman deposing to having us believe based only on the
information of the two sources. What he said is that he made a mistake,
but you see, if he made a mistake about that, he could have made a
mistake about a lot of things.

BLACKBURN:
That’s one of the problems of, in any case, in any event, your Honour.
Witnesses make mistakes, witnesses routinely make mistakes, but it
would be a bold submission to say that because – you see, Mr Akerman,
your Honour, is not generally deposing to an enormous mistake; he is
staying, yes, I spoke to Mr Turnbull, but I accept now that it must
have been after he was a director and it couldn’t have been before the
matter complained of. Mr Molomby, I agree, your Honour, can make
whatever submission he likes about how that affects Mr Akerman’s credit
and I can’t prevent those submissions from being made.

HER HONOUR: What bigger mistake could Mr Akerman have made?

BLACKBURN: It’s really quite a small mistake in the scheme of things.

HER
HONOUR: He’s named the one person who was the director, the person who
was the premature adjourner. This was his source for the story. The
chairman of the NRMA, the incoming chairman of the NRMA board. And it
turns out that he never spoke to him.

BLACKBURN: These
interrogatories were answered in May 2005. Your Honour, can I just take
that up. To what issue, how can my learned friend, with a straight
face, say Mr Akerman couldn’t have honestly held the opinion
represented by the comment because he made a mistake about whether he
spoke to Mr Turnbull or not. Your Honour, that is a massive non
sequitur.

HER HONOUR: Mr Blackburn, how can any journalist who
writes an article like this make a fundamental mistake about where he
got the information from and expect to have his evidence accepted as to
his belief of the information. That is such a fundamental mistake.

Allowing Akerman to continue besmirching our fine
profession of journalism is surely another fundamental mistake. Wonder
if Piers will mention this emerging $100,000-plus hit for News Ltd when
he catches up with Rupert during the Sun King’s current visit?

Peter Fray

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