In what the ABC and Nine have described as a blow to “media freedom”, businessman Chau Chak Wing has been awarded $590 000 in a defamation case brought against Four Corners, the ABC’s investigative journalism program.
Dr Chau argued that the 2017 Four Corners episode titled “Power and Influence” carried six defamatory imputations.
Nick McKenzie, an investigative journalist at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald was also sued as part of the proceedings. The Four Corners episode was the result of a collaborative investigation between the ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald , which at the time was owned by Fairfax Media which Nine now run.
According to Dr Chau, the program portrayed him as a Chinese Communist Party member who had “betrayed” his country and made significant donations to influence politicians.
Judge Steve Rares ruled in favour of Dr Chau, awarding costs against the ABC and Nine and ordering them to remove parts of the episode from online streaming services.
Dr Chau’s lawyer Mark O’Brien said in a statement that “Dr Chau is very pleased to have his reputation restored after such a baseless attack by Nick McKenzie and Four Corners.”
Nine and the ABC released a statement expressing disappointment at the ruling.
“The June 2017 Four Corners program Power and Influence, a joint investigation by the ABC, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, raised matters of vital public interest around the issue of Chinese foreign interference in Australia’s democracy.”
“This case has again starkly demonstrated fundamental problems with Australian defamation law and pre-trial procedures being heavily skewed in favour of a plaintiff.”
The statement also criticised the fact that they had to defend accusations that “the reporting never intended to convey [and] were forced to do so before the court even determined the program did in fact convey those imputations.”
Nine and the ABC have said they will review the decision and called for reform to defamation law.
On Tuesday, FBI documents tabled in Federal Parliament showed how the US intelligence agency traced $200, 000 sent by Kingold Investments, Dr Chau’s company, to the personal bank account of John Ashe. Ashe, now deceased, was formerly the president of the UN General Assembly.
This is the second time that Australian politicians have accused Dr Chau of being involved in a bribery scandal by using parliamentary privilege.
Mr Chau has never been charged by the FBI, and he denies any wrongdoing.
Previously to the Four Corners case, Dr Chau successfully sued John Garnaut, a journalist for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald for a piece written about the bribery story.
Features Image Source: ABC News
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