Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush has been awarded Australia’s largest individual libel payout after winning a defamation lawsuit against a Sydney newspaper
A “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind,” is how Justice Michael Wigney described the allegations made against Rush in the Daily Telegraph, which is owned by the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Lawyers for the Queensland-born actor, who starred in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The King’s Speech” and the “Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” insisted he had been portrayed as a “pervert and sexual predator” and that his reputation had been “smashed and destroyed.”
A three-week trial took place in late 2018 in the federal court in Sydney. Earlier this year Wigney ruled in Rush’s favor, and said that the case should have been settled out of court.
“It plainly would have been better for all concerned if the issues that arose in the saga that played out in this courtroom in October and November last year had been allowed to be dealt with in a different way and in a different place to the harsh and uncompromising adversarial world of a defamation proceeding,” Wigney said.
In 2017, the Daily Telegraph, one of Australia’s most popular newspapers, claimed the Hollywood star acted inappropriately toward a young actress during a production of King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company.
Rush said he felt “numb” after reading the article, and went into “an emotional spiral.” He had offered to settle his case for defamation for $34,000 and a front-page apology but that was rejected by the newspaper’s publisher. It insisted its story was true but now has to pay the Oscar-winning actor about $2 million for lost earnings and compensation. Never before in Australia has an individual been awarded libel damages on this scale.
Rush said the articles were compiled because the Sydney tabloid had wanted an Australian angle on accusations of sexual assault leveled at U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The Rush defamation trial is, so far, the only case in Australia associated with the #MeToo movement to have reached a legal conclusion.
Academics say an “unfortunate side effect of the decision” is that it will probably prevent the discussion and reporting of other sexual harassment allegations.