ABC journalist accused of lies at Walkley Awards dinner

Allegations arise during a defamation case against the ABC by ex-commando Heston Russell.

ABC journalist accused of lies at Walkley Awards dinner
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A senior ABC journalist lied on stage at a Walkley Awards dinner, a court has been told.

The allegation was made during closing submissions at the defamation case launched against the ABC by former commando Heston Russell.

Russell has alleged two ABC articles implied he was complicit in the murder of an Afghan prisoner.

The stories, written and produced by ABC journalists Mark Willacy and Josh Robertson, aired on television, radio and online in 2020 and 2021.

The first article relied on the evidence of a US marine who claimed he heard a “pop” over a radio and that it was the sound of Australian soldiers killing an Afghan prisoner.

The second article said the Defence Department had conducted an active criminal investigation into the conduct of an Australian commando platoon in Afghanistan.

Heston’s lawyer Sue Chrysanthou accused Willacy of lying about research conducted for the article, when onstage at a Walkley Awards dinner with Nine journalist Chris Masters.

“He told a number of lies to Mr Masters ... in particular the references to Australian commandos, but also the fact that he said he spent two months checking it out,” Chrysanthou said.

“(He said he had gone) back to (Josh) getting more detail, more detail, speaking to other people who were there. He just didn’t. And he didn’t work on it for two months like he was telling people. He was working on his book.”

She also claimed that Josh had not said many of the things attributed to him, including that it was Australian commandos who had killed the prisoner.

“When you look back at what Josh says, he just says Aussies ... or Australians,” Chrysanthou said. “He never says commandos.”

Justice Lee countered that “people make mistakes” and that it was possible Willacy was not lying.

Closing submissions continue today

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  • By Avi Yemini

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