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Four Corners Discredited

On 1 August 2008, the NSW Supreme Court handed down a comprehensive defamation judgment against the ABC and Reverend David Millikan for their production of a 1995 Four Corners program.

The Australian masthead image

ABC to pay defamed climber $500,000

By Andrew Drummond | August 01, 2008

MOUNTAINEER Tim Macartney-Snape has been awarded almost $500,000 after being defamed on ABC Television 13 years ago.

The New South Wales Supreme Court today awarded him $448,500 after a jury found an April 1995 episode of the Four Corners program, The Prophet of Oz, implied he used his influence to recruit school students to an alleged cυlt.

Mr Macartney-Snape, now 52, and associate Jeremy Griffith are directors of a Sydney-based research group Foundation for Humanity’s Adulthood (FHA).

The NSW-registered charity, established in 1983, has more than 100 members throughout Australia and New Zealand and claims to try to understand and improve the “human condition: human capacity for both good and evil”.

In May 2005, a Supreme Court jury found the Four Corners episode and its narrator Reverend Dr David Millikan, defamed Mr Macartney-Snape on two occasions.

Firstly, that: “Tim Macartney-Snape deceives schools who invite him to talk to students about climbing Mt Everest by exploiting the occasion to promote Jeremy Griffith and his teachings”.

And that he “ ... abuses his position of influence, derived from his reputation as a mountaineer, to recruit students at schools for Jeremy Griffith”.

Court documents show the damage to Mr Macartney-Snape’s reputation included two schools withdrawing invitations for him to address students.

“It is unsurprising that the impact upon his career as a speaker was dramatic and immediate,” today’s judgment said.

Mr Macartney-Snape said the verdict was vindication for FHA, which has had to endure years of “stigma” due to the Four Corners episode.

“The national broadcaster conspired with a religious fundamentalist to do a complete hatchet job on a groundbreaking scientific idea,” he said in a statement following today’s verdict.

With costs and interest, Mr Macartney-Snape expected the payout to exceed $1 million.

“Thirteen years later, the truth has caught up with the lie,” he said.

“Today’s verdict is vindication for a project which has had to endure the appalling and completely unjustified stigma cast by the ABC for more than a decade.”

While the jury also found Mr Griffith was defamed, Justice David Kirby did not award costs to the biologist, philosopher and author after considering the defences of truth, qualified privilege and comment in relation to the claim.

The ABC declined to comment until its lawyers had reviewed the 355-page judgment.

Parties will make submissions to Justice Kirby on costs and interest at a future date.

From The Australian newspaper’s website 01/08/2008

Daily telegraph image

$1m ruling against the ABC

August 02, 2008

TAXPAYERS will foot a huge bill after mountaineer Tim Macartney Snape was yesterday awarded almost $450,000 in damages over a defamatory ABC broadcast.

The Supreme Court ordered the payout after a jury found Mr Macartney-Snape was defamed by a Four Corners program which wrongly implied he deceived schools and abused his influence for his own ends. With costs and interest, the payout could top $1 million.

Mr Macartney-Snape -- who in 1984 became the first Australian to climb Mt Everest -- launched a career in public speaking.

But he told the Supreme Court that, after the program was screened in 1995, “any interest in me as a public speaker was, you know, pretty well shot”.

He sued the ABC and narrator David Millikan over the program, which concerned the work of biologist Jeremy Griffith. Mr Griffith is a co-director with Mr Macartney-Snape of the Foundation for Humanity’s Adulthood.

The Sydney-based research group claims to try to understand and improve the human condition and the “human capacity for both good and evil”.

The ABC unsuccessfully defended the case on the grounds of truth, qualified privilege and fair comment.

From the Daily Telegraph newspaper 02/08/2008

Four Corners Discredited
(FHA Media Release, 1 Aug. 2008)

After being awarded half-a-million dollars in damages by the NSW Supreme Court judgment, Tim Macartney-Snape, a twice honoured Order of Australia recipient, said “the verdict is further resounding discreditation of the 1995 Four Corners program about the FHA.”

In 1998, the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), Australia’s official media watchdog, brought down its then strongest ruling ever, against the Four Corners program. It found it to be ‘inaccurate, unbalanced and partial’ and it went so far as to take the unprecedented step of recommending to the ABC that it would be ‘appropriate to apologise’ to the FHA.

The ABA’s 1998 ruling included findings that “the imputation by Dr Millikan that Mr Griffith sees himself as a figure equivalent in stature and eminence as Jesus Christ” was “inaccurate” and that the program “omitted relevant viewpoints on the issue of family turmoil”.

“When the ABC refused to apologise, we were left with no choice but to institute defamation proceedings seeking compensation for the damage in the Supreme Court,” Mr Macartney-Snape said.

“In the judgment today, we won two of the three imputations determined by the judge and we’ve received a very substantial damages award.”

“It is appalling that the ABC dragged this out for so long, especially given the ABA recommended it apologise a decade ago.”

While relieved about his vindication, Mr Macartney-Snape said he was disappointed that his fellow director Jeremy Griffith was not also awarded compensation.

“It is very surprising, given that four eminent international scientists gave such strong evidence in support of Jeremy’s work.”

“As history shows and as this whole experience confirms, new ideas are notoriously resisted by the establishment,” Mr Macartney-Snape added.

Mr Griffith said he was relieved that the damage to Tim’s magnificent reputation had at last been properly redressed and that the credibility of the Four Corners program had been impugned by the verdict.

He also said, “while the issue of humans’ insecure and contradictory nature is the most confronting and thus contentious of subjects, it is also the underlying issue in all human affairs that must be addressed by science if there is to be a future for the human race.”

At the Supreme Court hearing before Justice Kirby in 2007, scientific experts from the US and Europe took the stand in support of Mr Griffith’s treatise on the human condition. Significantly, their evidence had to be limited to material he published prior to the April 1995 Four Corners broadcast.

Since 1995, Mr Griffith has published a number of seminal works that have attracted international attention and support from prominent scientists who regard his thesis as being at the cutting edge of scientific enquiry. His recent publications include The Human Condition Documentary Proposal (2004), which received commendations from eminent scientists including Stephen Hawking and Nobel Laureate Charles Townes, and the 2003 bestseller A Species In Denial.

Mr Macartney-Snape said that Mr Griffith’s earlier work was so new and radical, similar to the early pioneering work of other great thinkers and artists.

“The breathtaking scope and originality of Jeremy’s work contrasted so sharply with the prevailing mechanistic scientific paradigm that, initially, relatively few could recognise and appreciate its real substance. It’s like the early work of Picasso which was initially met with indifference, but later acknowledged as being brilliant and ahead of its time.”

Among those testifying at the 2007 hearing for Mr Griffith was Professor Harry Prosen, former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

“If we stop asking the serious questions about human life, we may as well stop being conscious,” Professor Prosen said upon hearing of the judgment.

Echoing Mr Macartney-Snape’s views, the Canadian professor added that: “George Bernard Shaw warned of the true nature of scientific progress when he said, ‘all great truths begin as blasphemies’.”

“Jeremy is a rare individual in the history of science, one of the very few honest and courageous enough to so directly confront and explain humans’ non-ideal state.

“I have no doubt that, in time, the extraordinary significance of his work will be recognised the world over,” Professor Prosen said.

END

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