Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones has once again been successfully sued for defamation. Jones and Macquarie Media’s 2GB and 4BC radio stations were ordered to pay $3.75 million in total to the four Wagner brothers of Toowoomba on Wednesday. It’s the largest damages awarded against him.
The Queensland Supreme Court judgement said that “between 28 October 2014 and 20 August 2015, 2GB and Mr Jones published 30 broadcasts. 27 of these broadcasts conveyed 76 defamatory imputations of and concerning the plaintiffs. The 76 defamatory imputations conveyed were extremely serious and of the gravest kind”.
Jones, 2GB and 4BC will be required to pay $938,746 each (including interest) to the four Wagner brothers over the defamatory comments about them made on his Sydney radio show.
Jones, journalist Nick Cater, Harbour Radio and 4BC were all being sued respectively, over comments made by Jones on his radio program about the collapse of a dam wall at a quarry owned by the Wagner brothers during the 2011 Grantham floods.
The court awarded each Wagner brother $750,000 worth of damages, plus $78,102.74 in interest, in relation to 27 matters concerning 2GB and Jones. In relation to the two matters concerning Jones and 4BC, the court awarded each brother damages in the sum of $100,000, with interest of $10,643.84.
“Mr Jones, 2GB and 4BC are permanently restrained from publishing or causing to be published any of the matters complained of,” the summary said.
The judgement does not include costs which could run into the millions of dollars. The Supreme Court will hear submissions on costs at a later date. The defamation proceedings against Cater were dismissed.
The Macquarie Media 2017-18 annual accounts revealed that the company had made $3 million of provisions for claims relating to potential liabilities for defamation settlements.
The provisions were made with counsel’s opinion and extensive legal advice, the company said. If the awards are not reduced or reversed on appeal (if there is one), then Fairfax Media’s radio arm will have to find the best part of $700,000 to pay the Wagners, plus any additional interest, as well as provide for other potential defamation claims still outstanding.
Investors clearly thought the judgement would be worse than announced given Macquarie Media shares rose 5.5% to $2.11 this morning on the ASX. Even if the award was more, Macquarie is clearly profitable — in the year to June and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were up 3.3% to $32.6 million on revenues that eased 0.3% to $136.6 million.
A Wikipedia entry for Jones lists 18 separate defamation actions against Jones since 1990 when he was on Sydney radio station 2UE and then 2GB. The list of previous actions against Jones includes including Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates, former Queensland premier Campbell Newman and rugby league referee Bill Harrigan.