A British man has successfully sued the Nine Network after it portrayed him as a coward who punched and ruined the career of Australia’s former rugby sevens captain James Stannard.
In September a magistrate had found 23-year-old Sam Oliver, who had been in Australia on a working holiday visa, not guilty of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm after an incident in March 2018.
A Nine News report – which had the caption “No Penalty” – began with the newsreader saying “it was a coward punch that ended the career” of Stannard who “suffered another blow as the man who threw it was cleared of all charges”.
It also said Mr Oliver “claimed” he acted in self-defence, the magistrate found “the victim” hit Mr Oliver first, and quoted Stannard as saying: “I feel the truth didn’t come out in the hearing”.
Federal Court Justice Lee said the term “coward punch” has a distinct meaning, adding, “No doubt the expression coward punch has come to be used as a way of signalling a deprecation of a violent act which is thought … not to be sufficiently brought home by the use of a term such as king-hit, or, to use an Americanism, a sucker punch.
“The broadcast was pregnant with the notion that Mr Oliver had done something wrong which caused a sporting hero to suffer misfortune,” the judge said.
But he rejected Mr Oliver’s submissions that the report also conveyed meanings that “he got away with it”.
Justice Lee awarded $100,000 damages but did not award the aggravated damages sought as he was not satisfied the hurt Oliver suffered was “grave”.
Legal costs will be decided at a later date.
A spokesperson for Nine later said: “We are disappointed that the judge did not uphold our defence and will review the judgment before making a decision on whether to appeal”.