Federal court finds ABC defamed Heston Russell

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has been found guilty of defaming former commando Heston Russell in a series of articles and broadcasts linking him to war crimes in Afghanistan.

Federal court finds ABC defamed Heston Russell
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A federal court in Australia ruled that the ABC defamed former commando Heston Russell by linking him to war crimes in a series of articles and broadcasts.

The ruling allows the case to move to the next stage, where the ABC will defend its reporting in a hearing next month.

The court found that the articles and broadcasts conveyed that Russell was under criminal investigation for his actions as a commando in Afghanistan and that he had left "fire and bodies" in his wake during his service in the country.

Russell, a former major in the Australian special forces, served four tours in Afghanistan and denies all allegations against him.

The ABC is defending its reporting as substantially true and argues that there was public interest in its coverage.

The case revolves around two online articles, a television news item, and a radio broadcast that pertain to the alleged actions of the November platoon, which Russell commanded, in 2012 in Afghanistan.

In the judgment, Justice Michael Lee stated that the first article, which details the testimony of a US marine pilot, was "damning." He also noted the use of vivid and sensationalist headings such as "Australian special forces soldiers made 'deliberate decision to break the rules of war'" and "Lots of fire and bodies were often left in their wake."

The second article reported that defense authorities were conducting a criminal investigation into the November platoon's alleged actions in Afghanistan in 2012. Russell is named in the report, which includes an image of him in uniform, and is the only member of the platoon identified.

The court found 10 defamatory imputations were made by the ABC's publications. The broadcaster has been given four weeks to file an amended statement of defense, and Russell two weeks beyond that to respond. The case is set to return to court on March 24.

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  • By Avi Yemini

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