Untold damages

Eryn Jean Norvill never wanted to be there.

And yet there she was, sitting in the front row of the packed Sydney courtroom, waiting for the judgement to be handed down in Nationwide News Pty Limited v Rush.

There she was, against her wishes, waiting to hear Justice Michael Wigney label her an incredible witness, one “prone to exaggeration and embellishment”.

From the bench, the justice began with King Lear:

O, you are men of stones!

Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so

That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever.

I know when one is dead and when one lives;

She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;

If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,

Why then she lives.

These were, of course, lines lifted from the scene so scrutinised by the court over the past six months.

It’s almost understatement to say The Daily Telegraph was “recklessly irresponsible” in its reporting of the allegations against Geoffrey Rush. But to say he is the only victim of its “sensationalist journalism of the very worst kind” is simply not true.

Eryn Jean Norvill never wanted to be there.

She never gave her consent to The Daily Telegraph to publish her story, never co-operated with its investigation.

And yet there she was, pushing through the pack of reporters outside the court, head down, mouth set in a firm line. There she was, on the stand, recounting in excruciating detail allegations she never wanted made public, enduring hours of scouring cross-examination.

Eryn Jean Norvill was not on trial here. The Daily Telegraph was.

This was a paper so desperate for a story that it told one without its subject’s consent. And then, through the ugly processes of our defamation laws, it dragged the source it didn’t have into a courtroom.

In an attempt to fend off the Rush suit, the Telegraph first invoked a defence of qualified privilege – citing the actor’s fame and the environment into which its articles were published, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. This failed, as did the truth defence the paper finally relied on.

But reporting that actively disempowers those who claim abuse is a betrayal of Me Too. A movement of which The Daily Telegraph was not a part.

Its abject instincts should not interrupt the work that needs to be done – to believe women, to call to account the powerful, to change the imbalances and excesses that define too many industries.

There will be a temptation to make meaning from the Rush case. The sad truth is there is none to be made. An energetic tabloid was too eager to publish, to co-opt a moment, and, caring for no one, it hideously injured lives to no meaningful ends.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 13, 2019 as "Untold damages".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on September 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.