A former rugby league journalist has lost his defamation case against media outlets for misquoting him as saying he would slit a junior colleague’s throat and shit down the 18-year-old’s neck.
Joshua Massoud was dismissed from Channel 7 after placing an abusive phone call to the young social media producer on May 1, 2018.
The long-time sports reporter made a series of increasingly angry calls after realising his exclusive story about Todd Carney’s comeback had been tweeted out by 7 News Queensland ahead of time.
After tracking down the number of the employee who posted the tweet, Mr Massoud called and told him: “If you weren’t so young, I’d come up there and rip your head off and shit down your throat.”
The cadet – the son of a Channel 7 executive and in his first paid job – apologised “at least four times” on the phone and broke down crying after the call. He now works at a bank.
Mr Massoud’s remark, which he described as “colourful”, was subsequently misreported as a threat to slit the junior employee’s throat.
He launched lawsuits against 2GB, Nine, Fox Sports, KIIS and Nationwide News (the publisher of NCA NewsWire) alleging he had been defamed by the misquote in 16 different publications.
But Judge Judith Gibson ruled in favour of the publishers in the NSW District Court on Thursday, finding a threat to slit someone’s throat, held against a threat to rip off their head, is “a distinction without a difference”.
She also rejected an argument from Mr Massoud’s lawyer that the caveat “if you weren’t so young” meant what he said was not a threat at all.
The graphic comment about shitting down the young employee’s neck was “particularly repugnant”, Judge Gibson wrote.
The judge ruled the media had made out their truth defence, also finding they had proved Mr Massoud was a bully who threatens and intimidates his work colleagues.
He developed a poor reputation during his time at News Corp, where his boss likened his eventual departure to “a dark cloud lifting and sunshine coming out”, Judge Gibson wrote.
By the time he arrived at Channel 7, he had a reputation for being “very difficult to manage” and quickly became “the most disliked person in the newsroom” according to testimony from the news director.
Mr Massoud contended his behaviour was at times “appalling” but not bullying, and had to be viewed in the context of a newsroom, where arguments and swearing are not unusual.
He was ordered to pay the costs of the media outlets.