Walkley foundation revokes Nine News award for Andrew Laming story

One of Australia’s leading journalism foundations has withdrawn a prestigious award that was presented to Nine News journalists for a story on former federal parliamentarian Andrew Laming after he sued the media company for defamation, and it apologised for the report.

Nine News journalists Peter Fegan and Rebeka Powell won the 2021 Walkley award for Television/Video News Reporting for their three part series which centred on allegations that a lewd photograph was taken of a young woman without her consent.

Nine journalists Peter Fegan and Rebeka Powell originally won the Walkley Award for their story on then-LNP MP Andrew Laming.Credit:Nine

Laming sued for defamation over one of the reports. Nine settled the case on confidential terms and apologised. Nine News is owned by Nine Entertainment, which also owns this masthead.

On Tuesday the Walkley Foundation issued a statement saying it had withdrawn the award.

The foundation said that it had sought materials from interested parties, independent legal advice, and subsequently “accepted a recommendation that the award be withdrawn”.

The foundation’s directors acknowledged that “defamation proceedings are not an exhaustive fact finding inquiry, or the foundation’s chosen vehicle through which to assess journalistic merit,” but said that ultimately “the directors have resolved to withdraw the award”.

Nine’s director of news and current affairs, Darren Wick, said in a statement the foundation’s decision was “extremely disappointing” and sets a “very concerning precedent”.

“Nine stands by the journalists involved and the importance of the work they produced, and as an organisation will not be deterred from pursuing challenging journalism that serves and informs the community,” Wick said.

“The current state of defamation law in Australia poses a significant threat to public interest journalism. Decisions about the settlement of legal proceedings are not always a reflection of the journalistic merits of a story. These reports were important examinations of the conduct of a politician, which contributed to a broader social discourse about what standards the community expects from its elected leaders.”

In a statement issued by his lawyers, Laming welcomed the move.

“The self-nominated award gave credibility to false and damaging allegations that should never have been published.

“The Walkley Foundation judging panel were aware of Dr Laming’s legal complaints yet proceeded to grant the award without making any inquiries of him about the substance of those complaints.”

The statements also called on the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance to take similar action over Queensland’s Clarion Awards. At those awards in 2021, Fegan and Powell won the TV News Report award for the entry titled “Andrew Laming”.

The Walkley Foundation declined to comment further on the matter.

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