The ABC will no longer rely on a “truth” defence as it fights defamation action brought by former special forces soldier Heston Russell.
- Former soldier Heston Russell is suing the ABC and two journalists over 2021 stories published by the ABC
- The ABC says the stories in question were important journalism in the public interest
- In February, a judge ruled that the ABC had conveyed 10 defamatory meanings in the stories
Federal Court documents reveal the ABC will, instead, use a new public interest test to defend a story published in November last year, which the former commando claims is defamatory.
Mr Russell is suing the ABC — along with journalists Mark Willacy and Josh Robertson — over a story published on television, radio and online on November 19, 2021, which the former commando says implied he was involved in the death of an Afghan prisoner.
While the stories contained a denial from Mr Russell, he claims they still gave the impression he was involved.
In February, Justice Michael Lee ruled the ABC had conveyed 10 defamatory meanings in the stories, including that, “Russell, as commander of November Platoon, was involved in shooting and killing an Afghan prisoner during an operation in Helmand Province in mid-2012”.
Justice Lee must now consider the ABC’s defence to those claims.
An ABC spokeswoman confirmed the public broadcaster would no longer rely on a “truth” defence to Mr Russell’s claims.
“The stories were important journalism in the public interest and the ABC will rely on the public interest defence,” she said.
The ABC’s amended defence, filed on April 28, showed the broadcaster did not believe the articles would cause “serious harm” to Mr Russell.
The matter is listed to be heard again in the Federal Court on May 16.