The trial between the former Special Forces Special Forces operative and ABC progresses after a federal court uncovered articles with defamatory implications depicting him as a war criminal.
Heston Russell is suing ABC and two of its investigative journalists for articles published in 2020 and 2021 that allegedly made it look like they were under investigation for the shooting of an unarmed prisoner.
After a preliminary hearing in November, Judge Michael Lee found that several of the accusations put forward had defamatory implications, and the matter will proceed to trial.
ABC does not directly allege that Russell committed a crime, but must defend articles and television reports that used his name and image.
In a statement of the allegations, Russell said an ABC article published in 2021 claimed that soldiers from the Commando Platoon in November were under investigation for their actions in Afghanistan in 2012.
The platoon was alleged to have killed unarmed and handcuffed prisoners because they could not afford a recovery flight.
A US Marine Corps helicopter pilot, who was not a witness, said he heard a “pop” on the radio and believed it was a gunshot.
Russell launched a campaign with 2GB’s Ben Fordham calling for ABC to apologize and remove the article.
In March 2022, the state broadcaster quietly updated two articles and announced corrections.
At a preliminary hearing held in November 2022, Sue Chrysanthou SC, on behalf of Mr. Russell, told the court that the article used Mr. Russell’s name and photograph, giving the impression that Mr. Russell was involved. said to have given
She said it was “disconnected from reality” to suggest readers not “immediately” believe that Mr. Russell was the commander of a unit that “killed people.”
ABC argued that Mr. Russell was the commander of the platoon under investigation and that the allegations were in the public interest, arguing a defense of contextual truth.
However, Chrisantou claimed Russell was guilty of the shooting or involved in criminal conduct.
At the preliminary hearing, Lyndelle Barnett, who represents ABC, said there were “multiple layers” that readers had to jump before coming to a conclusion.
She said in court that the allegations of misconduct against members of the platoon did not concern the group as a whole and should not be construed as such by readers.
Russell is asking ABC to remove the article and to pay aggravated damages in addition to court costs.
Judge Lee said in court Wednesday that he found the article to contain defamatory material.
“It would be necessary for the court to consider ABC’s filing a defense case as to substantive truth, contextual truth and public interest,” he told the court.
The case will go to court in March.
https://thewest.com.au/news/war-hero-has-small-win-in-federal-court-in-fight-against-abc-c-9618669 A war hero scored a small victory in federal court in his fight against ABC