Part of Lisa Wilkinson’s legal defense against Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation action involves her pointing the finger at one of Australian television’s most powerful men – Peter Meakin.
Meakin, 80, who left Network 10 in October, was a senior news and current affairs manager when former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins spoke to Ms Wilkinson on The Project in February 2021, alleging she had been raped in Parliament House by a ‘male’ colleague’ in March 2019.
Ms Wilkinson and Channel 10 are being sued by Mr Lehrmann over the interview, along with News Life Media – an umbrella company of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation that runs news.com.au – over reporting by journalist Samantha Maiden alleging the same allegations made by Ms Higgins.
Mr. Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence and strongly denies having had any sexual contact with Ms. Higgins.
According to his claim filed in Federal Court last month, Mr. Lehrmann says he was defamed because Wilkinson and Maiden were “recklessly indifferent to truth or untruths.”
Lisa Ms Wilkinson (pictured) says her colleagues fact-checked Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations before her award-winning interview aired
Part of Lisa Wilkinson’s legal defense against Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation action includes pointing the finger at one of Australian television’s most powerful men – Peter Meakin (pictured left)
Ms Wilkinson’s defense will argue that it was her colleagues’ job to fact check the allegations before publication. At no time does the court file state that she made her own checks, beyond observing the consistency of Ms. Higgins’ allegations and her responses.
In the legal document, Ms Wilkinson named more than eight of her Network 10 colleagues as the individuals she believed verified the validity of Ms Higgins’ allegations.
They included Peter Meakin, Craig Campbell, executive producer of The Project, co-executive producer Chris Bendall, senior producer Angus Llewellyn and Laura Binnie – the program’s head of full-length features.
“In Wilkinson’s view, Meakin’s input and extensive news and current affairs experience were particularly critical to the preparation and publication of the cases,” the defense said.
“Meakin ran newsrooms at all major free-to-air networks for more than five decades and was, according to Wilkinson, the most respected news executive in the country.”
The Walkley award-winning news veteran has worked at Channel Nine, Seven and 10 throughout his five-decade career and was instrumental in bringing Ms Wilkinson over to The Project from Nine’s Today show.
During her teary-eyed farewell to the program last November, Ms. Wilkinson personally thanked Mr. Meakin and stated that she would remain with the network.
But her future on the agency remains under cloud after she dropped her lawyers from Network last month and hired her own new legal team to fight the libel case and lay the blame on her colleagues.
The legal rescheduling means that Ms. Wilkinson would be personally liable for all damages awarded in the event she loses the case.
Brittany Higgins (pictured outside the ACT Supreme Court in October) claimed she was raped by Bruce Lehrmann. He denies the allegations
The trial of Bruce Lehrmann (pictured) has been derailed by juror misconduct
Her defense was filed in Federal Court on Wednesday by her attorney Sue Chrysanthou SC, outlining she will rely on a truth defense.
That means her legal team has to prove it’s more likely than not that Mr. Lehrmann raped Ms. Higgins.
Ms Higgins has indicated her willingness to testify at the trial, if it goes ahead.
Ms. Wilkinson says that, to her knowledge, the experienced team of news and current affairs professionals had come to a consensus that Ms. Higgins was a credible witness.
In addition, Ms Wilkinson pointed out that Samantha Maiden’s news.com.au story was published 12 hours before her TV interview aired on February 15, 2021.
She therefore believed that Mrs. Maiden and News Corp had conducted their own fact-checking and legalization prior to publishing the online article, and knew no complaints about the online article by the time The Project interview aired.
The TV presenter also says she “closely observed” Ms Higgins’ behavior every time she saw her and “carefully reviewed the tapes of the pre-air interview”, and generally believed the allegations.
Other sections of the file outline Ms. Wilkinson’s extensive journalism career, from 1978 when she started as an editorial assistant at Dolly magazine to 2017 when she became host of The Project.
It says she has interviewed and reported on more than ten prime ministers and world leaders on disaster areas, along with her honors and awards – including the Logie 2022 she won for her interview with Ms Higgins.
Despite her long career in journalism, the document notes that Ms. Wilkinson is “unfamiliar with the specifics of defamation law.”
A spokesperson for the network told Daily Mail Australia that Ms Wilkinson ‘is still a Channel 10 employee’.
Former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins sat down with Ms Wilkinson (pictured together) on The Project in February 2021, claiming she was raped in Parliament in March 2019 by a ‘male colleague’
Her defense argues that the charges of recklessness against her are “baseless, unjustified, unsupported by any fact and must be withdrawn.”
The TV presenter does not dispute that the central defamatory claim of rape was conveyed, but she does not admit that Mr. Lehrmann has been identified.
Mr Lehrmann was not named in the TV interview or in the online article, but he claims his friends, family and former colleagues in the parliament building were able to identify him as the alleged rapist.
He argues that the coverage invited viewers and readers to ‘speculate’ online and search for comment.
Another part of Mr. Lehrmann’s defamation claim is that Ms. Wilkinson could have tried to use the allegations for her professional and personal gain – which she denies.
Mr Lehrmann was accused of raping Ms Higgins in August 2021 – six months after her allegations were published.
He was then subjected to a month-long rape trial by a jury in the ACT Supreme Court in October last year, but it was cut short due to misconduct by a member of the jury.
Shane Drumgold SC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, subsequently dropped the case entirely due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health.
Ms. Wilkinson then parted ways with The Project and hasn’t appeared on TV since November, but is reportedly still getting a seven-figure salary thanks to her watertight contract.
When she stepped down last year, she said it was because of the “targeted toxicity” of parts of the media.