The ABC agreed to pay $100,000 to Industry Minister Christian Porter’s lawyer Rebekah Giles to settle his defamation case, but it remains unclear whether a significant part of the payment will ultimately end up in the minister’s personal bank account.
ABC managing director David Anderson said both parties had “agreed to characterise the payment as mediation and related costs” and maintained the ABC had not paid Mr Porter any damages, as he faced questions about the settlement at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday.
ABC managing director David Anderson has told a Senate estimates hearing that the ABC agreed to pay Christian Porter’s lawyer $100,000 for his mediation costs. Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
“It is common for lawyers to receive monies from a judgment or settlement as the representative of their client. It is standard practice for those funds to be passed on to the client in whole or in part if the client directs that legal costs and disbursements be deducted from those funds,” Ms Giles told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
A spokesman for Mr Porter declined to comment on whether he expected to receive a payment from Ms Giles, referring all questions to her. It is unclear who will get the remaining $74,500. Mr Porter’s total legal fees are likely to be far greater than any money received through the settlement from the ABC.
Asked about the discrepancy, Mr Anderson said the ABC had requested details about Mr Porter’s mediation costs before agreeing to the sum, describing Ms Giles’ purported fees as “potentially understated.”
He declined to give his view of Mr Porter’s characterisation of the settlement last week, which he declared a “humiliating backdown by the ABC”, and instead defended the broadcaster’s journalism.
“This matter has been settled. Mr Porter has fully released the ABC from all claims,” Mr Anderson said. “I will say the ABC has not issued an apology. The ABC stands by its journalism. The article in question is still online, it remains unchanged and available for everyone to see it.”
He added: “On behalf of the ABC, I’m not humiliated and we do not regret the article.”
He also revealed the minister made two offers to settle the case before the ABC initiated mediation in May – one before and one after the ABC filed its defence, 27 pages of which have been redacted from the public domain.
Nine Entertainment Co (owner of this masthead) and News Corp have joined forces to fight the non-publication order over the redacted parts of ABC’s defence in the Federal Court.
Mr Porter launched the defamation action in March, claiming an online article by reporter Louise Milligan that revealed a historical rape allegation against a then-unnamed cabinet minister defamed him by portraying him as the perpetrator of a “brutal rape” of a 16-year-old girl in 1988, when he was 17. Mr Porter has strongly denied the claim.
Over the course of three hours, senators also grilled Mr Anderson about his decision last week to delay the broadcast of a Four Corners episode addressing the ties between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a QAnon conspiracy theorist.
He confirmed ABC news director Gaven Morris had received calls from the Prime Minister’s office about the story, but dismissed suggestions the program had been derailed as a result of government pressure. Instead, his decision was based on the view the program required more work.
“I believe there’s been no intervention by anyone of the government or anyone else to suggest that that program should not go to air,” Mr Anderson told the hearing.
He said he had received a written response addressing his concerns from the reporting team, led by Milligan, which he had yet to review.
“I didn’t pull the story. The story is underway. It very well may go to air,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly criticised Four Corners last week for “poor form” by attempting to explore his connections to QAnon supporter, Tim Stewart, who has been known to the Morrison family for years. Mr Morrison said it was “deeply offensive” to suggest he had any association with the QAnon movement.
The QAnon conspiracy theory centres on discredited claims about an international paedophile ring involving politicians and celebrities.
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