Australian columnist and Sky News presenter Chris Kenny wants a “close-to-six-figure” sum — or one slightly under $100,000 — in damages from the ABC, numerous sources close to the case have told Crikey.
The damages relate to a defamation action launched by the journalist in November after a sketch aired by the public broadcaster in September last year, in which Kenny was photoshopped mounting a dog on political sketch show The Hamster Decides. Crikey contacted Kenny before 10am this morning about the amount he requires for settlement, but did not hear back before deadline.
A settlement that large would contradict Kenny’s previous statements that indicated he was only after an apology from the ABC. In March, Crikey asked Kenny whether he was after monetary compensation for the potentially defamatory skit, to which he responded: “The ABC has refused to apologise, so I have launched defamation proceedings against the ABC to obtain an apology, costs and damages.”
Last month, ABC managing director Mark Scott issued a public apology to Kenny. “I have come to the view with the director of television that the ABC should not have put the skit to air. Having reviewed the issue, in my opinion it falls short of the quality demanded by our audience and normally delivered by our programming,” he said. He also offered a personal apology in a phone call to Kenny.
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In response to this, Kenny told Crikey he had instructed his lawyers to “settle [the defamation matter] as quickly as possible”, though he noted his displeasure that Hamster Decides host Julian Morrow had publicly repudiated the apology on Twitter.
Yesterday, the ABC released to journalists a letter its lawyers sent Kenny’s lawyers seeking to settle the case. That letter offered to pay Kenny’s legal costs should he agree to drop an appeal against one of the defamatory imputations, which had been struck out by a judge. If he didn’t agree to drop the appeal within seven days, the letter implied, the ABC could pursue Kenny for costs should his appeal fail. That letter also offered to have Scott read out a shortened version of his apology in court.
“After forcing me to incur considerable costs over more than seven months, Mark Scott … eventually issued an apology that was immediately repudiated by the producers of the program. No apology has yet been broadcast on the ABC and none received from the producers of the program. And, despite Mr Scott saying he was sorry for the distress caused to me and my family by the program and the delay in the apology, the best the ABC can do is try to bully me by circulating a letter to journalists before I was even aware of it. My lawyers are proceeding with the case.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s ruling on whether the skit breached the ABC’s policies is, to quote a spokesperson this morning, “still before the authority”. No further detail on that was available, though Crikey understands a decision is still some time away.