Jones faces uphill battle to appeal payout

Alan Jones
Alan Jones

Lawyers for broadcaster Alan Jones are weighing whether to follow Bauer Media's lead and try to reduce Australia's largest defamation payout on appeal.

But that won't be easy, a leading defamation expert says.

Jones, his radio station 2GB and Brisbane station 4BC were ordered on Wednesday to pay a record $3.7 million to the Wagner family after claiming they were responsible for 12 deaths in the 2011 Lockyer Valley floods.

The Sydney radio identity has said he'll pore over a 344-page judgment before deciding on any appeal against the Brisbane Supreme Court ruling.

Toowoomba brothers John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner had sought $4.8 million from the defendants. That was $100,000 more than Hollywood actor Rebel Wilson was awarded after being defamed by Bauer Media.

But she was ordered to repay almost 90 per cent of that after an appeal in early June found she was not entitled to $3.9 million in economic damages, and slashed the payout to just $600,000.

High-profile Sydney defamation lawyer Patrick George says Jones might find it difficult to achieve a reduction.

"I think it will be difficult for Jones and 2GB because to do that, they really have to attack the findings of 'malice' and 'aggravation'," he told AAP.

"In Rebel Wilson's case, there was a large component for economic loss, which the court of appeal found was not really proven.

"It depends on the trial judge's view of the facts and how he saw Jones' conduct.

"Those sorts of things are difficult to overturn at the court of appeal. It's a question of fact."

Jones began his attack on the Wagners on 2GB in October 2014, when he claimed there had been a high-level cover-up of their involvement in the deaths.

His attacks centred on allegations the Wagner family was responsible because a wall of a quarry they owned collapsed, allowing a "tsunami"-like wave to consume the town of Grantham.

But Supreme Court Justice Peter Flanagan found 2GB and Jones had made extremely serious, defamatory allegations during a series of broadcasts over two years, and that Jones had been wilfully blind to the truth.

"Mr Jones and his co-defendants relentlessly misled their listeners and the people who had trusted them to be honest and truthful," Denis Wagner said outside court.

Australian Associated Press