In June of last year, Rebel Wilson won the largest defamation payout in Australian history, with a cool $4.56 million in damages. The payout came after the Court decided that statements made in Women’s Day and the Australian Women’s Weekly accusing her of having lied about her age, real name, and details of her upbringing, were indeed defamatory. The articles were deemed to have been published to cause maximum impact, coinciding with the release of Pitch Perfect 2, a film in which Wilson stars. Wilson maintains that the false allegations damaged her career in Hollywood.
An appeal has since been lodged and was heard in the Court of Appeal in Melbourne. Bauer Media contend that the statements were true, and in any case were unlikely to have caused Wilson any harm. They also say that the payment was too high, particularly in light of previous defamation payouts.
The judgement has the media industry in uproar after six Australian media firms lost their bid to bring an appeal against the payout, arguing that it was against the public interest. In fact, the Ten Network was one of the only media companies not to have joined the appeal.
So far, the Court of Appeal has confirmed that Bauer Media will be forced to also recompense Wilson for around $1 million of her $1.4 million legal fees. This includes ancillary costs including a security guard to accompany her to the trial hearings in Melbourne, following an incident in which the actress was approached by a member of the public.
The case has now been heard and is awaiting judgement. Given that Wilson immediately pledged to give the payout to charity, surely one cannot question her intentions in simply wanting to clear her name. The real issue will be deciphering the implications of this case on freedom of speech in the media industry.
By Navi Suglani