Clementine Ford wins defamation suit against Sydney Morning Herald and Age

Newspapers agree to pay former columnist around $60,000, including $20,000 in legal costs, in response to comments made by the mastheads’ executive editor

The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age newspapers will pay former columnist Clementine Ford roughly $60,000, after defamation proceedings over comments from the mastheads’ executive editor.

On Tuesday, the federal court entered a judgment in favour of Ford in the proceedings she launched against the former Fairfax newspapers now owned by Nine, and Tory Maguire, the executive editor, with the order that Ford be paid $39,000 – an amount the parties had agreed to by compromise.

Maguire and her publishers were also ordered to pay Ford’s legal costs, which Guardian Australia understands totalled about $20,000. Nine will cover all of the agreed costs.

Tuesday’s judgment was not a decision of merits from the court, rather it reflected that Nine had consented to judgment against itself.

Ford, who quit as a columnist at the newspapers in 2019 after she was internally cautioned over a tweet calling the prime minister, Scott Morrison, a “fucking disgrace”, had given an interview to the Nine newspapers’ Spectrum section in November 2021 about her new book, How We Love.

The article was published on the Herald and the Age’s websites on 21 January, but was subsequently taken down, and the piece did not appear in Spectrum’s print edition.

After the interview with Ford was pulled, Maguire explained reasons behind the decision, telling Guardian Australia’s Weekly Beast column: “Clementine Ford spent years making vile and personal attacks on the journalists and editors of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age after the mastheads stopped publishing her column.

“I had knocked back a pitch for an interview with her but there was a breakdown in communication and it was commissioned and published in error. I have pulled it from Spectrum and taken it down out of respect for my team,” Maguire said.

Ford claimed Maguire’s comments carried the defamatory imputations that she had “spent years making vile and personal attacks on the journalists and editors” at the newspapers, that she “behaved vengefully and abusively towards” and had a “personal vendetta” against her former colleagues after leaving as a columnist.

Ford’s statement of claim argued that Maguire’s comments could cause serious harm to her “reputation for championing women’s rights”, attacked her professionalism, and would be likely to impact sales of her new book.

A statement released on behalf of Nine and Maguire said: “We’re pleased this matter has concluded.”

It is understood the newspapers do not plan to publish the initial interview with Ford.

Before launching defamation proceedings, Ford requested an apology over the comments, which was refused. Guardian Australia understands no apology will be made following Tuesday’s consented judgment.

Ford said Tuesday’s “judgment is a win not just for me, but for all the women who are relentlessly attacked and misrepresented by media organisations so deeply wedded to their own hubris that they assume we will not fight back”.

She also thanked her legal team, which included prominent defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou, and Rebekah Giles.

“Robust dialogue and even disagreement must always be celebrated in the public sphere, but I will not stand by as mendacious lies are put forward about me and my conduct towards my colleagues.

“The entry of judgment in my favour today by consent represents an acceptance that the statement made by Tory Maguire about me and against me was false and defamatory, and I feel vindicated in this outcome,” Ford said.


Elias Visontay

The GuardianTramp

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