Sam Oliver after his initial trial in September 2018.
Sam Oliver after his initial trial in September 2018.

Nine pays out $100k over ‘coward’ comment

AN Englishman who was cleared of assaulting Australia's former Rugby Sevens captain is entitled to $100,000 damages after being defamed by the Nine Network, a judge has ruled.

Sam Oliver sued the broadcaster in the Federal Court over its September 2018 report on him being cleared of assaulting the ex-captain and Olympian James Stannard in March 2018.

Justice Michael Lee on Friday found the report depicted Mr Oliver as being a coward who punched a defenceless man causing him grievous injury.

He also found a second meaning of Mr Oliver being a coward who punched a defenceless man, ruining his career as a professional athlete.

A magistrate had found the 23-year-old, who had been in Australia on a working holiday visa, not guilty of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm.

He found Mr Oliver was acting in self-defence and that Stannard threw the first punch during an altercation outside a Coogee kebab shop, in March 2018.

The Nine report - which had the caption "No Penalty" - began with the newsreader saying "it was a coward punch that ended the career" of Stannard.

Former Australian Rugby Sevens captain James Stannard.
Former Australian Rugby Sevens captain James Stannard.

The broadcast later included a comment from Stannard who said, "I feel like the truth didn't come out in the hearing."

Justice Lee said the term "coward punch" has a distinct meaning, conveying something different about the perpetrator of the act than the more benign, historical term of "king-hit".

"No doubt the expression coward punch has come to be used as a way of signalling a deprecation of a violent act which is thought … not to be sufficiently brought home by the use of a term such as king-hit, or, to use an Americanism, a sucker punch," the judge said.

That's because it describes a characteristic of the perpetrator - "in hitting a defenceless person in an unprovoked manner, the actor is not only committing a violent act but also, distinctly, is contemptibly lacking the courage to act in a proper or fair way".

Justice Lee did not award the aggravated damages Oliver sought as he was not satisfied the hurt Oliver suffered was "grave".

The issue of legal costs will be decided at a later date.

In a statement made to the Sydney Morning Herald a Nine News spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that the judge did not uphold our defence and will review the judgment before making a decision on whether to appeal."