ABC to pay defamed climber $500,000, Australia/August 1, 2008

Mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape has been awarded almost $500,000 after being defamed on ABC Television 13 years ago.

The New South Wales Supreme Court today awarded him $448,500 after a jury found an April 1995 episode of the Four Corners program, The Prophet of Oz, implied he used his influence to recruit school students to an alleged cult.

Mr Macartney-Snape, now 52, and associate Jeremy Griffith are directors of a Sydney-based research group Foundation for Humanity's Adulthood (FHA).

The NSW-registered charity, established in 1983, has more than 100 members throughout Australia and New Zealand and claims to try to understand and improve the "human condition: human capacity for both good and evil".

In May 2005, a Supreme Court jury found the Four Corners episode and its narrator Reverend Dr David Millikan, defamed Mr Macartney-Snape on two occasions.

Firstly, that: "Tim Macartney-Snape deceives schools who invite him to talk to students about climbing Mt Everest by exploiting the occasion to promote Jeremy Griffith and his teachings".

And that he " ... abuses his position of influence, derived from his reputation as a mountaineer, to recruit students at schools for Jeremy Smith".

Court documents show the damage to Mr Macartney-Snipe's reputation included two schools withdrawing invitations for him to address students.

"It is unsurprising that the impact upon his career as a speaker was dramatic and immediate," today's judgment said.

Mr Macartney-Snape said the verdict was vindication for FHA, which has had to endure years of "stigma" due to the Four Corners episode.

"The national broadcaster conspired with a religious fundamentalist to do a complete hatchet job on a groundbreaking scientific idea," he said in a statement following today's verdict.

With costs and interest, Mr Macartney-Snape expected the payout to exceed $1 million.

"Thirteen years later, the truth has caught up with the lie," he said.

"Today's verdict is vindication for a project which has had to endure the appalling and completely unjustified stigma cast by the ABC for more than a decade."

While the jury also found Mr Griffith was defamed, Justice David Kirby did not award costs to the biologist, philosopher and author after considering the defences of truth, qualified privilege and comment in relation to the claim.

The ABC declined to comment until its lawyers had reviewed the 355-page judgment.

Parties will make submissions to Justice Kirby on costs and interest at a future date.

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