Former
NRMA President, Nick Whitlam says he’s going to sue the Nine Network for
defamation. His
statement followed a decision of the NSW Supreme Court in which Justice Bergin held
that Whitlam was entitled to be indemnified by the NRMA for the legal costs
he incurred to date (estimated at $207,000 according to the SMH story) and his
future costs in pursuing Channel Nine.

In a
statement issued after the court decision, Mr Whitlam said:

I was
defamed by Channel Nine in the course of performing my duties as President of
the NRMA. The program (Sunday) and its subsequent republication has and continues to cause me great harm and
distress. It is
disappointing that it was necessary for me to take this court action against the
NRMA. Prior to commencing proceedings I requested the NRMA pay my reasonable
costs to allow me to pursue defamation proceedings against Channel Nine and the
NRMA refused to do so. As a
result of today’s judgement I am now in a position to
sue Channel Nine and shall do so.

The SMH
story reported that Mr Whitlam’s costs may be limited to a no-win, no pay
basis:

The Supreme Court heard
that Mr Whitlam had already incurred $207,000 in legal costs in his action
against Channel Nine, over an interview with him on its Sunday program in March
2001. However, Justice Bergin
said the NRMA’s obligation should be limited – in
essence a no-win, no-pay scenario.

If the officer brings
defamation proceedings to defend himself or herself against defamatory
imputations made against the officer during the course of his or her duties, and
for instance, the defamatory imputations are justified, or proved to be true,
and relate to a matter of public interest, a company ought not to be held liable
to indemnify a director for legal costs in such
circumstances.

She said the defamation
indemnity was limited to where directors were vindicated by an apology,
settlement, or verdict and judgement in their favour.

Peter Fray

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