Australian actress Rebel Wilson has been awarded $4.56 million in the Supreme Court in a defamation judgment against Bauer Media – a decision that undoubtedly will lead to a rethink on how celebrity gossip is reported in news media.
Wilson will receive general and aggravated damages of $650,000 and special damages of $3,917,472 for income loss in the largest payout in Australian defamation history.
The actress launched the action against the publisher of Women’s Day after a serious of eight defamatory articles she claimed caused the loss of a number of lucrative film roles. The articles were found to be based on information from a source with “an axe to grind” against Wilson.
Justice John Dixon said Bauer Media branded Wilson a “serial liar who had fabricated almost every aspect of her backstory” and had deliberately sought to capitalise on her success through its articles.
“She was held up to be a phony and a fake,” Justice Dixon said.
“Bauer Media failed to properly investigate, before publishing them, allegations that they regarded as defamatory that were made by a source that required both anonymity and payment.
“Bauer Media knew the imputations they conveyed were false, but they proceeded to publish nonetheless … it did not care whether the plaintiff suffered reputational damage as it pursued its own corporate interests.”
Wilson’s lawyer, Richard Leder, said after the judgment that the case was a warning to tabloid media against paying sources and running stories that were known not to be true.
Justice Dixon said the damage to Wilson’s reputation was unprecedented and she suffered financial loss as a result of the articles being amplified by Hollywood gossip sites. “Substantial damages are necessary to compensate her,” he said.