ABC responds to planner defamation claims
The ABC has said it will defend itself in legal proceedings brought by a former NAB financial planner, who claims the news station broadcast defamatory reports about him.
According to court documents, a TV report named Graeme Cowper as one of "at least some financial planners identified in the leaked NAB report" who were involved in misconduct and are still giving advice.
However, Mr Cowper was the only person named in the broadcast, the court documents say, and by naming him at the end of the news piece, it may have acted "like a lightning rod" for all the suspicion conveyed by the broadcast.
"The format of the television piece is to make extensive reference to generic conduct not attributed to the plaintiff," said Supreme Court of NSW judge, Lucy McCallum.
"[However,] there is nothing in the specific reference to the plaintiff to carve him out of that conduct, the matter complained of simply stating that he had been subject to 'a compliance breach report' to ASIC."
Speaking to ifa, an ABC spokesperson said "the ABC will be defending the matter and will not comment further as the matter is before the courts".
The matter will be heard – alongside other legal actions being brought by Mr Cowper against Fairfax Media – following the publication of articles he believes ties him to forgery and other misconduct.
The court documents list The Age newspaper, journalists Adele Ferguson and Ruth Williams and whistleblower Jeff Morris as defendants in this case.
Lawyers for Mr Cowper claim Ms Ferguson summarised certain information in an email to Julia Quinn, director of media and community relations at AMP, where Mr Cowper worked at the time.
Ms Ferguson wrote that she understood that Mr Cowper's employment had been terminated at NAB due to reconstruction of client files and hoped to put a few questions to him ahead of an article in which she would name him, according to court documents.
Mr Cowper has sought to include within the scope of damages any re-publication of the email by Ms Quinn, for which the defendants could be liable.
Further, Mr Cowper claims there are implications he was engaged in forgery in an article dealing with generic allegations of forgery and other misconduct against a number of former NAB advisers.
"The real question in the present case is whether the article is reasonably capable of pointing to Mr Cowper as a person who engaged in the dishonest conduct of forging documents referred to in the first piece," Justice McCallum said.
"It may be accepted that the article does not in terms accuse Mr Cowper of forging documents but, in my view, there is enough in the whole of the material sued on to conclude that that is an issue which must be left to the jury," the judge said.
Fairfax Media did not return ifa's requests for comment.
Sue Chrysanthou, a lawyer for Mr Cowper, told ifa the defamation claims in this case are "serious." She added that the legal proceedings are still at an early stage.
"[The defendants] have to file a defence, due sometime in September. There won't be a hearing until sometime next year," she said.
"There's still quite a bit to go."
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