THE AJN has won a defamation case brought by Rabbi Yossi Feldman in the NSW Supreme Court.
Rabbi Feldman, who was formerly the director of Yeshiva College Bondi and president of the Rabbinic Council of NSW, sued both The AJN and Joshua Levi, who covered the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse for the paper, after the commission’s public hearings in February 2015.
He contended that four articles, “Royal Commission: Our Darkest Week”, “Rabbi Yossi Feldman urged leniency for abusers”, “Our community’s shame” and “Rabbi Yossi Feldman, the RCNSW and The AJN” defamed him.
Rabbi Feldman alleged that Levi and the newspaper damaged his reputation, but in a 93-page judgement Justice Lucy McCallum ruled against him.
“The consequence of my findings as to the defences of honest opinion and justification is that there must be judgement in favour of the defendants,” Justice McCallum stated in her judgement.
In response to Rabbi Feldman’s claim that Levi and The AJN acted maliciously, she took the step of noting the integrity of the paper, the editor and its journalists.
“In my assessment, there is simply no proof whatsoever that the defendants were actuated by malice or that they deliberately misrepresented the plaintiff’s evidence at the Royal Commission,” she ruled.
She also said, “I am not persuaded that the defendants were actuated by any improper motive,” adding, “On the contrary, the evidence has persuaded me that they acted with the highest journalistic integrity.”
Justice McCallum stated that, after assessing testimony from Levi and national editor Zeddy Lawrence, The AJN “is a serious newspaper which approached the business of reporting news of interest to the Jewish community imposing a high standard of journalistic fairness on itself”.
Levi, who is now the CEO of the newspaper, said it is important that this ruling is now on the public record.
“We refused to apologise because we reported accurately,” Levi said. “We stood up for what is right.”
Levi said that the judge’s ringing endorsement of the paper, and the editor, was particularly heartwarming.
Rabbi Feldman has stated he intends to appeal the ruling.