“I Was In A Moment of History”: Ben Roberts-Smith Lost Defamation Case

Ben Roberts-Smith, former SAS soldier and Victoria Cross recipient, lost his defamation case against Nine newspapers yesterday.

What does this verdict mean for Ben Roberts-Smith and the journalists who have won the legal battle?

Click the link below and listen the full episode:

On today’s The Briefing episode, we sit down with LiSNTR Executive Producer Ellen Leabeater, the Series producer for Guardian Australia’s podcast Ben Roberts-Smith v the media , and who has been following the 100-day trial.

In 2018, journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters published stories about Mr Roberts-Smith’s alleged war crimes on The AgeThe Sydney Morning Herald, and Canberra Times.

These stories were published after approval by James Chessell, the Nine executive, then the executive editor at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald in 2018.

Ms Leabeater said the newspapers accused Mr Roberts-Smith of committing a number of killings, imputations relating to bullying, and one imputation about domestic violence.

One of the imputations relates to a mission at a village called Darwan, and it’s alleged there that Roberts-Smith kicked a handcuffed Afghan farmer off a cliff,”

Ms Leabeater said.

She said the newspapers identified the man as a farmer named Ali Jan, while Mr Roberts-Smith “always maintained that he was a member of the Taliban”.

He kicked this man off a cliff and then ordered soldiers under his control to shoot that man,”

This was a young, inexperienced soldier, so a lot of people listening to this might think, well, they’re in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. It’s hard to know who’s who, whether you’re dealing with a farmer or a member of the Taliban or both.”

Mr Roberts-Smith then sued the newspapers, accusing them of portraying him as a criminal “who broke the moral and the legal rules of military engagement”.

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After a year-long defamation trial with an expensive cost of up to $35 million, a Federal Court judge has found Mr Roberts-Smith murdered and assaulted unarmed prisoners while deployed in Afghanistan.

That’s what was at stake in this trial. The public interest, journalists, the public’s right to know what was being done in our name in Afghanistan.”

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