Sydney-based journalist Nick Cater has been a central character in the latest in a series of defamation cases brought against the media by the Wagner brothers — cases which have seen damages totalling nearly $8 million.
The cases stem from stories from various corners of the media — across radio, print and TV — which claimed that a quarry owned by the Wagners, a prominent Toowoomba family, contributed to a number of deaths in Grantham during the 2011 Queensland floods.
Damages payouts have mounted across two separate cases already: a payout (settled out of court) of more than half-a-million dollars from Spectator Australia in 2017, and a damages payout of $3.75 million found against Alan Jones and his then-employer Harbour Radio (owned by Macquarie Media, now part of Nine).
Last week the Queensland Supreme Court delivered a $3.6 million judgement against Nine and Cater for a 2015 episode of 60 Minutes (featuring Cater) which was found to have defamed the Wagner brothers. On Friday, Justice Peter Applegarth ordered Nine and Cater to pay $2.4 million and $1.2 million respectively.
So who is Nick Cater? Well according to the Liberal Party affiliated Menzies Research Centre (where Cater is an executive director), Nick’s a gem; “one of the nation’s leading political commentators”.
But he comes across rather less polished in a summary of Applegarth’s judgement:
“Mr Cater’s statements on the program … were gravely defamatory of the Wagners. The injury to reputation and other harm caused by his defamation was aggravated by his unjustifiable or improper conduct, including his miserable post-publication conduct towards the Wagners … Mr Cater disregarded the evidence of an eyewitness which undermined his story … The injuries inflicted by the defendants’ defamations were made worse by their failure to properly apologise and withdraw the defamatory imputations. That unjustifiable conduct, which has aggravated harm, has continued to this day.”
The Weekend Australian (where Cater is a columnist and a former editor) ran a report of the judgement on page five of the weekend’s edition, under the misleading headline of “Nine’s $3.6 million bill over flood deaths”. Nine’s bill was $2.4 million and the rest was Cater’s, a point that was only reported deep in the story.
Cater was described in the story as “a columnist for The Australian” with no mention of his time as editor of the weekend paper, his deputy editorship of the Sunday Telegraph or his current gig at the Menzies Foundation.
Nine’s Sydney Morning Herald buried the story in a brief, three paragraph story (with pic) at the top of page12 in Saturday’s paper. At least the Weekend Australian gave the story a big headline, even if it was misleading.