The QAnon conspiracy theory centres on discredited claims about an international paedophile ring involving politicians and celebrities.
Explaining the ABC’s decision to settle with Mr Porter, Mr Anderson said the broadcaster was facing costs of up to $1.5 million to defend the matter in a three-week trial. He confirmed the ABC had paid no damages to Mr Porter, and revealed the minister made two offers to settle the case before the ABC initiated mediation in May – one before and one after the ABC filed its defence, 27 pages of which have been redacted from the public domain.
He said the mediation was covered by a confidentiality agreement but there was a clause in the deed of settlement that allowed him to disclose the costs paid to Rebekah Giles, Mr Porter’s solicitor, to Parliament.
“The ABC will pay to Company (Giles) the sum of $100,000 in respect of mediation and related costs,” Mr Anderson told the estimates hearing on Monday.
As part of this sum, the ABC will split the cost of the mediator – about $31,000 – with Mr Porter. Defending the action cost the ABC a total of $780,000.
Mr Porter launched the defamation action in March, claiming an online article by reporter Louise Milligan that revealed a historical rape allegation against a then-unnamed cabinet minister defamed him by portraying him as the perpetrator of a “brutal rape” of a 16-year-old girl in 1988, when he was 17. Mr Porter has strongly denied the claim.
Mr Anderson also defended Milligan and Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour’s activity on Twitter, as he fielded questions from Coalition senators about the appropriate use of personal social media accounts by ABC journalists.
He acknowledged he had been concerned by Neighbour’s “factually inaccurate” tweet shortly after the settlement deal was announced saying “no money was paid” by the broadcaster. She subsequently deleted the tweet and issued a new one saying “no damages were paid”.
Mr Anderson told the hearing ABC news director Gaven Morris had “had conversations” with Neighbour and Milligan about their social media activity after the settlement.
“I don’t know what the content of that conversation was … my concern at the time that there would be further statements that would be made that would be inaccurate,” Mr Anderson said. “Nothing has been brought to my attention at the moment that I believe to be a breach of the code of conduct.”
Mr Anderson declined to give his view of Mr Porter’s characterisation of the settlement, which he declared a “humiliating backdown by the ABC”. Mr Porter also claimed the broadcaster had been forced to say “they regret the outcome of the article” in an editor’s note affixed to the article. Instead, Mr Anderson defended the journalism and noted no damages had been paid to Mr Porter.
“This matter has been settled. Mr Porter has fully released the ABC from all claims,” Mr Anderson said. “I will say the ABC has not issued an apology. The ABC stands by its journalism. The article in question is still online, it remains unchanged and available for everyone to see it.”
He added: “On behalf of the ABC, I’m not humiliated and we do not regret the article.”
Responding to questions from Labor senators, Mr Anderson disclosed the timeline of the settlement discussions, revealing Mr Porter first offered to settle on March 23 – just over a week after he launched the defamation action. The second offer came on May 9, days after the ABC filed its defence on May 4.
Nine Entertainment Co (owner of this masthead) and News Corp have joined forces to fight the non-publication order over the redacted parts of ABC’s defence in the Federal Court.
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