The Supreme Court of New South Wales has once again found against a broadcaster for comments made during a radio program: Kim Anne Ahmed v Harbour Radio Pty Limited  NSWSC 1928. Harbour Radio and its employee, Ray Hadley, have been ordered to pay $280,000 in damages, plus interest, for defamatory comments made on-air by Mr Hadley during his program on radio station 2GB.
A jury found that on two separate occasions in 2008 and 2009, Mr Hadley conveyed imputations of a defamatory nature regarding a Sydney fish and chip shop owner. The broadcasts were held to have made very serious criticisms and allegations of the plaintiff’s character and conduct for maintaining loyalty to her husband. Mr Ahmed had been convicted of indecently assaulting a teenage girl employed at their shop.
With regard to the first of the two offending broadcasts, it was held that Mr Hadley damaged the plaintiff’s reputation when he described an Apprehended Violence Order complaint made by the plaintiff against the teenage girl’s father as “frivolous, vexatious and without substance.” Mr Hadley also referred to the plaintiff as a “grub of a wife” and that she and her husband should “completely and utterly be sent out of business. Disgraceful.”
The second broadcast was held to carry the imputation that the plaintiff is a “silly, silly woman” and that she should be driven out of business due to her association with a convicted sex offender.
Factors considered in the determination of damages with respect to both broadcasts included the failure to apologise, persisting with the plea of justification and aggravation caused by the plaintiff’s knowledge of the falsity of the imputations. Acting Justice Nicholas held, “these poisoned arrows found their mark, and left the plaintiff sorely wounded” and that the “publicly inflicted harm entitles [Ms Ahmed] to an award which vindicates her reputation and marks the baselessness of the defamation.”
This case highlights the sometimes difficult nature of establishing the defence of justification with Harbour Radio and Mr Hadley failing to show the plaintiff’s reputation had not been damaged due to her support of her convicted husband.