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Van Onselen foots former employer’s legal bills

Former Ten political correspondent Peter van Onselen was ordered to foot the media company’s legal bills following a contract dispute.

user iconNaomi Neilson 27 July 2023 Big Law
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It comes weeks after the NSW Supreme Court found Dr van Onselen breached a redundancy contract when he wrote a disparaging article about Ten in The Australian, which made the company seem “weak, commercially unviable and/or worthless”.

The contract included a non-disparagement clause that prohibited both parties from making any negative public comments.

Dr van Onselen said the parties should pay for their own costs, or he should be ordered to pay a $50,000 lump sum, because he put Ten on notice about the article before it was published and never received a warning it might be in breach or a threat of litigation.

 
 

The “high-profile” journalist also claimed Ten did not succeed in its request for an injunction, which would have prohibited Mr van Onselen from making any further disparaging comments publicly.

However, Justice David Hammerschlag said the fact Ten did not warn Dr van Onselen that he would be in breach “does not in any way assuage the fact that he breached” the contract.

“Although Ten sought an injunction and did not obtain it, the practical outcome was Ten succeeded and Dr van Onselen failed.

“The court’s refusal to order an injunction is not to be equated with partial success by Dr van Onselen, Justice Hammerschlag added.

During discussions with Ten’s human resources team, Dr van Onselen said he was concerned Ten would “hang me out to dry”, particularly in light of allegations made by a former employee.

Despite requesting the non-disparagement clause in the redundancy contract, Dr van Onselen told the court he thought he was “precluded from providing a fair comment in respect of Ten”.

In a judgment handed down earlier this month, Justice Hammerschlag said the article made several implications that could “self-evidently undermine the confidence of investors”.

“This is not a trivial or insignificant matter,” he said.