Political commentator and journalist Peter van Onselen has been ordered to pay Network 10’s legal costs after a judge found he breached contract when he wrote a “disparaging” story about the broadcaster.
Earlier this month, Justice David Hammerschlag said the article Van Onselen wrote for The Australian did breach a non-disparagement clause which covered his former employer and its owner Paramount.
The clause set out that van Onselen could not “disparage Ten” or make any statement that brought the broadcaster into disrepute or adversely affected its reputation.
Justice Hammerschlag said the article did breach the clause.
“One of the clear implications … is that Dr van Onselen took up the (political editor) position because Ten’s future looked bright, but he ‘walked away’ from it because this turned out not to be the case,” Justice Hammerschlag said.
“To my mind, this is a disparaging comment in the context of Dr van Onselen’s employment and its termination.
“This type of disparagement can self-evidently undermine the confidence of investors or potential investors in Ten. That is not a trivial or insignificant matter.”
In the article, van Onselen slammed the broadcaster as “the minnow of Australian commercial television”.
Van Onselen had said he shouldn’t have to pay the legal costs – or should be forced to pay a lump sum of $10,000 – because 10 didn’t threaten him with litigation when he said he was writing the article.
Justice Hammerschlag sided with the broadcaster, ruling: “The fact that Ten did not warn Dr van Onselen that he would be in breach does not in any way assuage the fact that he breached.”
“After the proceedings commenced, Dr van Onselen continued to dispute that he was in breach,” he wrote in his judgement. “He went a step further and argued that (the disparagement clause) was void.”
“Although Ten sought an injunction and did not obtain it, the practical outcome was that Ten succeeded and Dr van Onselen failed.”
“The Court’s refusal to order an injunction is not to be equated with partial success by Dr van Onselen.”