The Federal Court Decision – Ben Roberts-Smith and Nine Newspapers

The Federal Court’s decision to dismiss war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation action against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times is a landmark adjudication for public interest journalism in Australia.

Justice Anthony Besanko’s summary findings in what many lawyers described as “the defamation trial of the century’’ came at the end of an expensive and drawn-out legal process.

"No one should doubt that investigative journalism is hard – it takes commitment, determination, investment and time – lots of time. But it also requires courage, from those who do it, and those who publish and broadcast it. Such journalism is profoundly important to our media and our democracy," Melbourne Press Club CEO Nick Richardson said.

"Nick McKenzie, Chris Masters and David Wroe’s reporting is in the best traditions of investigative journalism. But the extremely serious allegations they made were about Australia’s most decorated living veteran. In the end, the publisher’s truth defence prevailed."

This decision provides affirmation for journalists to continue tackling the big and important stories that are at the heart of the best Australian journalism, the Melbourne Press Club president Ashlynne McGhee said.

"Legal action is emotionally and financially exhausting and is too often used to try to intimidate or silence investigative journalists. It won’t work. This decision should give my colleagues in the media the confidence to continue tackling the big and important stories that hold the powerful to account," she said.

*Please note: Nick McKenzie, of The Age, was a board member of the Melbourne Press Club and a former president. 

For further comment, please contact Nick Richardson by email.

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