Australia’s Geoffrey Rush verdict and #Metoo — should we be worried?
Ladies. Ladies. Ladies. Welcome to the new world of shut up.
Should we be worried? Hell, yes! If you haven’t already noticed, journalism is struggling to stay afloat in the face of social media stealing a huge chunk of its income. Newspapers have been forced to be kinder to its advertisers and everything is about the click. A few years ago, the phrase ‘click bate’ was a discussion about integrity, today it’s a discussion about survival. Budgets have been cut. Editors are scrambling. Suddenly stories and op pieces that were easily published are harder to get picked up. The media is scared. My job as a writer brings with it many risks.
So one of Australia’s most well-known actors, Geoffrey Rush, winning a defamation case against the newspaper The Daily Telegraph doesn’t help matters. He has been awarded nearly $2.9 million dollars over stories published by The Daily Telegraph alleging he behaved inappropriately towards his colleague, actress Eryn Jean Norvill during a theatre production in 2015–2016. Not only was the news outlet sued, but so was the journalist, Jonathan Moran.
But The Daily Telegraph has launched an appeal. It has cited 16 grounds upon which it claims the trial was miscarried by Justice Michael Wigney who the Telegraph says “gave rise to an apprehension of bias”. Reading some of the transcript myself, Norvill did not have a pleasant time on the witness stand. In the end, Wigney found Norvill wasn’t a credible witness. Let’s be clear though. Credible does not mean dishonest, it just means her testimony couldn’t be used because of inconsistencies. In her testimony, Norvill says that Rush inappropriately touched her breast, but nobody saw it except actor Mark Winter. Yet Wigney found Winter to have inconsistencies in his evidence too.
The Telegraph is also pushing for an appeal because new evidence by actress Yael Stone was not included. Known for her work in the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black, she told The New York Times late last year that Rush allegedly danced naked in front of her, used to mirror to watch her while she showered during the Belvoir St Theatre’s The Diary of A Madman, sent her erotic text messages, and touched her back through an open-backed dress “in a very sensual manner” during an awards show. Rush has denied all allegations made against him.
In the article by the Times titled ‘The Cost of Telling a #MeToo story in Australia’ not only captures Stone’s fear of coming forward, but how the #MeToo movement is playing out differently in Australia compared to the USA because of the differences in the legal system. If this particular case played out in the USA, the law would have needed Rush to prove that what the Telegraph printed was not true. He would have also had to prove that the Telegraph acted with reckless disregard of the truth, even if he could prove that what they published was false. In Australia, the onus is left to the publisher — in this case the Telegraph — to prove that the allegations are true.
Here is one of the text messages sent to Norvill by Rush.
After the trial, Norvill said, “I stand by everything I said at trial. I told the truth. I know what happened. I was there.” We have to remember that this trial was not brought against Norvill. The Telegraph found out about the story and ran with it. It is between Rush and The Telegraph. Yet plastered now on Norvill’s reputation are the words ‘not credible’.
And herein is where the problem lies for us women. How do we prove misconduct in a world run by men? How do we speak up when the onus is on us to prove ourselves? It’s hard to speak up against powerful men and the systems they are part of because we know if we do then some pretty important doors are going to slammed in our faces. So many powerful people knew about Weinstein but they did nothing. Why? Because they were benefiting by the system. And powerful men can often afford expensive lawyers. The alternative is to shut up and play the game, but in the end we are the ones that pay the emotional and physical cost.
Maybe Australia needs a revision of its defamation laws if it is to really see change in the #Metoo movement and equality for women. Because I ask you, how would the case have turned out if Justice Wigney was a woman?