Sunday 7 June, 2020

Australian newspapers lose Chris Gayle defamation appeal

Chris Gayle.

Chris Gayle.

An Australian media group has lost an appeal against a defamation payout of Aus$300,000 that was awarded to Jamaica and West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle by the Supreme Court of New South Wales last year.

The 39-year-old Gayle was accused by former media group Fairfax, which at the time was the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times, of exposing himself to a female massage therapist in a dressing room during the 2015 World Cup in Sydney.

Gayle told the court that the stories were not true and successfully sued for defamation.

The explosive opening batsman won the defamation case in October last year after jurors found Fairfax was motivated by malice and had failed to establish a defence of truth.

Gayle also appealed the amount of his payout, seeking an increase. However, the court rejected the bid by Gayle for a larger payout.

During the trial, massage therapist Leanne Russell alleged that Gayle had partially exposed himself to her in a dressing room, leaving her "very upset".

Gayle and teammate Dwayne Smith, who was in the dressing room when the alleged incident took place, both gave evidence in the supreme court before justice Lucy McCallum in 2017.

Justice McCallum levied the damages on December 3, 2018 in a long-awaited ruling after a four-person jury in the New South Wales state High Court found in October 2017 that Fairfax had not established Gayle had exposed himself in a team dressing room during a Sydney training session at the 2015 World Cup.

The jury also found Fairfax was motivated by malice, rejecting the media group's defense of qualified privilege, which argues the organization acted reasonably by publishing information which is in the public interest.

Justice McCallum awarded Gayle a single sum for a series of articles published in January, 2016 in the Sydney Morning Herald, Canberra Times and Melbourne Age. Aggravated damages were not awarded and the figure was at the lower end of recent defamation payouts.

The judge found imputations in the articles published by Fairfax "went to the heart of Mr Gayle's professional life as a batsman." But she agreed with Fairfax, the allegations were "not at the most serious end of the spectrum."

"In light of the jury's verdict I am required to assess damages on the basis that the allegation of indecent exposure was not true and that the attribution of such conduct was very damaging to Mr Gayle's reputation."

Justice McCallum said Gayle's evidence that the articles had hurt his feelings was "surprisingly compelling." A particular source of hurt were calls for Gayle to be banned from international cricket.

After winning his court case last year, Gayle tried to spark a bidding war for a tell-all interview, promising that "when I break this down to y'all it will be like a movie".

"Biding (sic) starts at US$300K for this interview! So much to say & I will!" he tweeted to his then 3.75 million followers.

Gayle is among the world's highest-profile cricketers.  He had announced his retirement from one-day cricket after the World Cup in England. However, after West Indies crashed out of the tournament, he backtracked on those plans to retire from one-day cricket, as well as declaring himself open to a first Test appearance in five years.

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