Evolution Of Humans And Ideas At Stake In Landmark Trial

14 March 2007 Media Release

The long awaited defamation trial over the ABC’s treatment of Everest mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape and biologist Jeremy Griffith in a 1995 Four Corners program began today in the NSW Supreme Court.

The opening submissions from Kieran Smark, barrister for the two plaintiffs, presented an overview of the case before Justice David Kirby.

“This is a case in several senses about evolution, about the evolution of humans and also about the evolution of ideas and the way that process can be fostered or hindered by media,” Mr Smark said.

“In this country, freedom of expression permits broadcasters, including the national broadcaster, to make publications about individuals and their ideas without restraint, but the consequences of that is that they remain answerable for those publications and that’s what this proceeding is about.”

Mr Smark said it was also a case about three men, the plaintiffs Mr Griffith and Mr Macartney-Snape and Four Corners guest producer and second defendant Reverend David Millikan. The plaintiffs first met Reverend Millikan at the 1991 launch of Mr Griffith’s second major work, Beyond The Human Condition. Beyond was described by Mr Smark as being broad in scope drawing from a number of disciplines including biology, philosophy, psychology, anthropology and primatology.

He went on to say the promotional flyers distributed at the book launch contained prominent commendations from two scientists, namely Professor Charles Birch and Professor John Morton that were indicative of the significant scientific support at that time for Mr Griffith’s work.

Mr Smark highlighted Reverend Millikan’s subsequent review of Mr Griffith’s book for the Bulletin magazine, in which Reverend Millikan said Mr Griffith’s conclusions were “a scandal”, and questioned Griffith’s “lack of belief in God”.

He outlined key events in early 1995 leading up to the publication of the Four Corners program which he said evidenced a malicious intent by Reverend Millikan.

Mr Smark also criticised the editing of the program which caused the powerful imputations in respect of Mr Macartney-Snape that the jury found to arise.

The conduct of Reverend Millikan “showed an obsession with Griffith’s ideas and whether those ideas have room for a transcendent God. It is relevant that David Millikan was, from 1991 to 1995 offended, appalled or otherwise adverse to Jeremy Griffith’s ideas, rightly or wrongly, because those ideas did not have room for a transcendent God, and that was unpalatable to Reverend Millikan.”

The opening submissions continue tomorrow. The plaintiffs are also expected to call biological anthropologist Professor Walter Hartwig from Touro University, California to give evidence.


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