A veteran Townsville journalist-turned-blogger has been awarded $100,000 after Queensland’s Supreme Court found he had been defamed by an item in The Australian’s media diary that implied he was frequently drunk.
The item was published in the media gossip column in June 2014 about Malcolm Weatherup being put on a good behaviour bond after kicking his neighbour’s car door in frustration over a poor park. Weatherup, also known as the Townsville Magpie, is a Townsville media identity — a former Townsville Bulletin court reporter whose weekly column is now run on his own personal blog and is often highly contemptuous of his former employer. The Media Diary dig regalled readers with an alleged nickname of Weatherup’s (“always under the weather up”), and said he left the Bully “incurring the wrath of a number of judges”.
Weatherup sued for defamation, saying the story suggested he was “habitually intoxicated” and that this had been sufficient to “incur the wrath of judges”.
To defend itself, The Australian brought five witnesses, who each attested to Weatherup occasionally or regularly showing signs of heavy drinking. But a jury decided this didn’t provide sufficient proof as to the truth of the two imputations conveyed by the piece. The judgement by Justice David North reads:
“On any measure, the defendant’s imputation was of significant defamation of the plaintiff’s character, shedding a significant cloud on his capacity to act moderately, suggesting rather uncontrolled disposition to consumption of alcohol. Moreover, the defendant failed to prove that the plaintiff’s habitual intoxication was sufficient to incur the ‘wrath of judges’. While there was evidence of perhaps two occasions where a judge discharged a jury because of some misrepresenting of a trial, there was precious little evidence of any ‘wrathful’ rebuke by a judge of the plaintiff. Nor did the defendant establish that the plaintiff’s “habitual intoxication” brought about the misreporting or any judicial rebuke. Nor am I satisfied that it was established that any “habitual intoxication” on the part of the plaintiff obliged him to leave employment with the Townsville Bulletin.”
Given this, Weatherup was awarded general and aggravated damages of $100,000. He declined to comment given an expected appeal by News Corp. — Myriam Robin