WHEN Rebel Wilson was awarded millions in damages after she was defamed by Bauer, many of her fans, and indeed those who hate gossip mags, cheered.
But she should never have been awarded such a large sum.
I’m not defending Woman’s Day. The publication defamed her in a series of articles — that is not what is being questioned. Wilson took action against Bauer, the publisher of Woman’s Day, in May 2016 and won her case last year.
But the huge sum that she was originally awarded, $4.5 million in damages, is by far the highest amount awarded by Australian courts in a defamation case.
Under Australian law, people can be defamed by the publication of material that will harm their reputation in the minds of ordinarily people.
Rebel was defamed. This isn’t being questioned.
What was in question was the amount of damages she originally received.
The courts award damages are in three tiers:
• GENERAL DAMAGES (which are the most common type of damages awarded in Australia) are for ‘non economic loss’. This amount was $381,000 at the time of the trial, and is now $389,500.
• AGGRAVATED DAMAGES. These are awarded to reflect the exceptional harm to a plaintiff, and they’re triggered by things such as knowingly publishing something that wasn’t true.
• SPECIAL DAMAGES are awarded if the plaintiff (in this case Wilson) can prove a specific economic loss due to the defamation.
Wilson’s lawyers were pushing for a high payout because they claimed she had huge career setbacks due to the series of articles, and lost roles that would have paid her a lot of money. The court originally agreed, and awarded her an incredible $3,917,472 in special damages.
But nobody has ever been awarded anywhere near the sum Wilson was granted following her case against Bauer. The magazine giant appealed the size of the payout, and today it was cut back to a total of $600,000.
I really like watching Wilson perform. I’ve met her and she has always been more than lovely, friendly and pleasant. So this is not some personal swipe. But 4.5 million buckaroos? OK, we’ll never understand the fickle world of Hollywood casting, but that amount always seemed extreme.
I find it incredibly difficult for anyone — Hollywood actress or not — to determine what they ‘could’ have lost because of stories in gossip mags that had been written about them?
When the damages ruling was made last year, many people thought the weekly gossip mag world, a universe that revolves around stretching the truth (and in many cases, inventing the ‘truth’) had finally had got its comeuppance.
The original articles published were commonplace for the gossip mags.
Articles with headlines such as: ‘Just who is the REAL Rebel?’ The stories alleged Wilson had lied about her age, her name and her upbringing in Australia.
She was falsely labelled a ‘serial liar’.
While they clearly outraged Wilson, these types of articles were not out of place in that publication.
Many people who celebrated her win last year believed the mega amount awarded would finally get the publishers of Woman’s Day to concentrate on research and ‘real’ longer-form journalism.
Umm. Well, that has never quite happened.
Still, there are alleged (and quite frankly wrong) hook-ups, breakups, babies and everything in between that get written about every week.
Gossip mags are still appealing to a certain section of the public. They’re still making money. So it was highly unlikely they would change their business model.
I always applauded the fact Wilson was going to give the money to charity, this was never about greed.
But Australia’s legal system can’t be picking and choosing who it awards huge amounts of money to — whether they’re Hollywood stars or not.
If anything, the whole case has everyone talking damages. Again. It will be interesting to see if other celebrities take on similar cases in the future. After all, the effort might not be worth it.
Originally published as Why Rebel didn’t deserve to be awarded $4.5m