Australian actor Geoffrey Rush has filed defamation proceedings against Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, seeking damages and “vindication” for defamation over an anonymous and unverified allegation the paper has been covering.
Since its “world exclusive” last Thursday, the Murdoch-owned newspaper has been pushing the story of an “inappropriate behavior” complaint made against Rush to the Sydney Theatre Company following a 2015 production of King Lear, covering the story in print at least nine times in print. The Telegraph, which is notorious for its inflammatory front page puns, has labeled Rush “King Leer” and referred his “Bard Behavior” in headlines, comparing him to alleged serial predators such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Australian gardening show host Don Burke. Though the exact nature of the complaint remains unknown, the Telegraph claimed the allegation was so serious that the Sydney Theatre Company would never work with the actor again.
In a statement that is worth watching for Rush’s delivery alone, the Oscar-winning actor accused the paper of “splattering [the claims] with unrelenting bombast on its front pages:”
Rush—who was not informed of the anonymous complaint and has been unable to ascertain its details, but “abhors any form of maltreatment”—stepped down as president of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts on the weekend, before filing his claim on Friday, claiming irreparable damage had been done to his reputation, as well as extreme hurt to his family. Compared to the U.S., Australian defamation law is highly favorable towards plaintiffs, with no requirement to prove malicious intent on the part of the defendent.
The paper’s editor said they would be defending their reporting in court, saying “The Daily Telegraph accurately reported the Sydney Theatre Company received a complaint alleging that Mr Geoffrey Rush had engaged in inappropriate behavior.” Staff at the Daily Telegraph’s Melbourne counterpart were reportedly told not to tweet about the “highly libelous” piece, which was dropped from their front page.