Sex, drugs, and checkbook journalism: Australia’s media under investigation after defamation case reopens

In the uncommon decision to reopen a blockbuster defamation trial brought by an alleged rapist against a media business, an Australian judge remarked, “Let sunlight be the best disinfectant.” This decision was made in response to the fact that the decision was exceptional. Claims that were later described as “sordid” by Justice Michael Lee made their way into the public sphere in this manner. These claims provided a startling insight into the manner in which producers from a major television network allegedly secured an interview with a former government employee by offering him illegal drugs, sex workers, a golf trip, and expensive meals.

Due to the fact that the defamation case captivated the Australian public when the key parties took the stand the previous year, there was a great deal of anticipation for a decision to be handed down on Thursday. On the other hand, thousands of people tuned in to see the reopened case while it was being broadcast live on YouTube. This was due to the presence of a new witness.

In 2019, a government employee named Brittany Higgins made allegations that she was sexually assaulted by a coworker in Parliament House following a night of drinking in Canberra. The allegations were made by Higgins. Bruce Lehrmann, the individual whom she accused of committing the crime, fiercely denied that any sexual activity had taken place, and he entered a plea of not guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent in court.

But in 2022, the trial was thrown out because of misbehavior on the part of the jurors. Rather of requesting a retrial, the prosecution decided to drop the charges against Higgins, citing the fact that additional court action would provide a “unacceptable risk” to his health. Due to the fact that Lehrmann was unable to uncover any evidence to refute the charges, he decided to file a defamation lawsuit against several media outlets for their initial reporting of the issue.

Two different channels reached a settlement with the allegation by paying the legal fees totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. In spite of this, Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson decided to fight it using a truth defense, which effectively means that they have given their attorneys the responsibility of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Lehrmann did in fact rape Higgins.

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