Peter van Onselen claims 10 contract “overbearing”

Lawyer for ex-10 political editor claims clause in his contract prevents him from ever speaking out about network, but judge asks "Well then why did he sign it?"

The legal spat between former Network 10 political editor Peter van Onselen and the broadcaster headed to the NSW Supreme Court today.

The saga arose after van Onselen penned an article in The Australian on the network’s business outlook, including the parent company Paramount.

But 10 is suing over a breach of his exit contract, with PVO having departed the network in March to return to academia.

Today his high-profile lawyer, Sue Chrysanthou SC, argued the non-disparagement clause was overbearing.

She suggested PVO would technically be in contempt of court if he was dissatisfied with his Paramount+ subscription and wrote an email of complaint.

“It puts him in breach if he says to his mates at the pub ‘I’m surprised Network 10 purchased that program, it’s not a good program’,” Ms Chrysanthou said.

“It is a lifetime order being sought against a person whose profession it is to talk, and only being able to speak about Network 10 for his entire life in glowing terms would affect his legitimacy and professionalism as a commentator and as an academic.”

Justice David Hammerschlag asked, “Well then why did he sign it? This is a contract case.”

Paramount human resources executive Anthony McDonald also said he could not recall a conversation he had during Dr van Onselen’s redundancy negotiations.

The court was told Mr van Onselen said in a phone interview with Paramount vice-president of human resources Anthony McDonald: “I assume the deed doesn’t shut down my right to talk about the network forever.

“If the CEO f***ed a goat and everyone was piling on, I would be able to?”

Ms Chrysanthou told the court that Mr McDonald  allegedly replied: “Yeah, of course mate.”

Mr McDonald told the court he did not remember the conversation and said it had not happened.

The court was told the summons would even prohibit Mr van Onselen from negatively commentating on Paramount’s international employees, including the “tea lady in New York”.

“This summons is a lifetime order against a person whose profession it is to talk and to talk about politics and the media,” Ms Chrysanthou said.

“This order would mean my client would have to ensure that when he is criticising other media, he doesn’t criticise Network 10 – one of the few free-to-air TV stations.”

During cross-examination via video link van Onselen admitted he did not read the final version of the deed of release.

“If the deed is different to the way I interpreted it in relation to the non-disparagement clause, then yes … I was putting myself in the hands of my lawyer”, he said.

Van Onselen has agreed not to disparage or ridicule the Network or its staff until the case is over. He is currently visiting the Amalfi Coast.

Separately, 10 is also fighting an employment case with reporter Tegan George, and denies her workplace claims raised regarding Van Onselen.

Source: Perth Now, news.com.au