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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3456

(Question No. 5254))


Dr Klugman asked the Minister for Communications, upon notice, on 26 March 1987:

(1) What has been the total cost of the defamation proceeding involving Comalco Ltd and the ABC program `Four Corners'.

(2) What action has been taken to prevent a similar recurrence.


Mr Duffy —The answer to the honourable member's question, based on information provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, is:

(1) The ABC's legal costs amounted to $566,778.07. These costs were made up of $435,394.80 for a trial over eleven weeks before the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court and $131,383.27 for the appeal to the full Federal Court. Terms of settlement with Comalco Ltd included a provision that, with the exception of a statement to air which included reference to the fact that the ABC had undertaken to pay Comalco Ltd a substantial sum by way of damages and contribution to costs, neither party publicly disclose the details of the settlement.

(2) Over the last six months the Corporation has been in the process of restructuring its Legal and Copyright Department. As a result of the restructuring the Legal and Copyright Department now comprises five solicitors placing it in a position to provide an upgraded national service to the Corporation. In particular, it is the objective of the Department to centralise, monitor and control the program and copyright advice given day to day to all news and current affairs services and program makers.

To effect its abovementioned objective a business-size card has been designed and distributed throughout the Corporation. The card lists the business telephone numbers of the Department together with the after hours telephone numbers of four of the five Corporation solicitors. These four solicitors are available for advice to all Corporation journalists and program makers 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The Legal and Copyright Department is particularly mindful of its responsibility to ensure that the staff of the Corporation and, in particular, its journalists and program makers receive adequate training in areas of the law relevant to them especially contempt, defamation, intellectual property and contract. Solicitors in the Department regularly address training sessions within the ABC and the Department has prepared and distributed throughout the Corporation a paper titled `Contempt of Court'. Further, the Department is currently preparing a paper on defamation.

In addition to the above the Head and Assistant Head of the Department are in the process of visiting Corporation offices and agents in all capital cities outside Sydney to consolidate the above, ascertain any special needs they may have and to review all outstanding litigation matters.

Discussions have taken place with a view to producing a videotape based on case law to be used in conjunction with training sessions and the papers on contempt and defamation.

The program `Strangers In Their Own Land' which was the subject matter of the litigation between the ABC and Comalco Ltd was purchased from Granada Television.

The contract for the purchase (a pro-forma contract prepared by Granada) did not contain an indemnity in favour of the ABC in the event that the program contained any defamatory material. This has now been rectified. All further purchasing contracts with Granada, for current affairs and documentary programs, will contain the following provision:

`The licenser (Granada) undertakes and agrees to indemnify and keep indemnified the licensee and the television transmitting stations from which the programs are telecast pursuant to this agreement, and each of them against any loss, liability, cost and expense in connection with any action, suit, claim or demand made by any person, firm, company or corporation against it or them for alleged libel, slander, infringement of copyright (whether literary, dramatic, musical, artistic or otherwise), literary piracy, unfair competition, invasion of the right of privacy or otherwise arising in any way from the use by the licensee of the programs in accordance with this agreement.'