An excruciating moment aired four years on the since-axed Footy Show will be in the spotlight as Erin Molan and the Daily Mail duke it out in court.
When Erin Molan takes the stand in her defamation case against the Daily Mail in August, she is likely to face questions over an excruciating moment aired four years on the since-axed Footy Show.
The Federal Court was told on Friday an infamous comment uttered by Paul “Fatty” Vautin — suggesting an Indigenous person’s relatives would spend his prizemoney on alcohol – would be used in the media outlet’s bid to prove Molan was racist.
The Nine sports presenter is suing the online tabloid for defamation, arguing it falsely painted her as racist and an “arrogant white woman of privilege” in an article about her saying “hooka looka mooka hooka fooka” on 2GB’s Continuous Call Team show.
She alleges the Daily Mail made up a quote from her, saying the comment was an “in-joke”, and falsely reported that she refused to apologise.
The Daily Mail fired back with a 61-page truth defence laying out 24 conversations from the rugby league podcast it says proves Ms Molan is racist.
The bitter court battle will go to trial later this year but landed in court on Friday afternoon for the two sides to duke out procedural disagreements before Justice Robert Bromwich.
Among the incidents the Daily Mail plans to rely on is a June 2017 episode of The Footy Show, in which an Indigenous audience member won $6600 in a game played during the broadcast, the court heard.
Vautin, who was wearing a sombrero at the time, said to the man: “All of your relations in Cairns just went ‘How good, I can’t wait until he gets back, we’re having a drink’.”
The Daily Mail alleges Ms Molan then laughed.
The comment was met with an awkward silence on the show and a furore thereafter.
Barrister Matthew Richardson said the Daily Mail wanted to ask Ms Molan certain questions about the incident prior to the trial, including whether she had seen the contestant and knew he was Indigenous and if she made a subsequent complaint.
“Our case is that after Mr Vautin made the remark about the man winning the prizemoney and his relatives being delighted when he went back to Cairns and bought them a drink, (Molan) laughed,” he said.
Mr Richardson added that it was “highly relevant information” if Ms Molan had made a complaint after the show.
“Our submission, and this is clear from the defence, is that when these crude accents and obnoxious racial stereotyping occurs and (Molan) either laughs or says things like, ‘Oh was that racist?’, that she’s complicit,” he said.
Barrister Lyndelle Barnett, acting for Ms Molan, said the argument just showed how “weak” the Daily Mail’s case was.
It was “yet again” an instance of the media outlet pointing at somebody else doing something in the presence of Ms Molan, she said.
“It’s an incredibly weak position to say (Molan) is racist because she laughed at a comment made by someone else,” Ms Barnett said.
“She did not make the comment herself.”
In any case, Ms Barnett said, the Daily Mail could simply ask her about it when she gives evidence at trial and does not need Ms Molan to answer written questions about it now.
Justice Bromwich noted laughter could mean anything from “laughing at something completely unrelated to a wholehearted endorsement of the comment being made”.
“It could be uncomfortableness from something being said that shouldn’t have been,” Ms Barnett suggested.
While Ms Molan is expected to take the stand, the Daily Mail will not call any witnesses at the trial, the court has been told.
Other disputes between the parties include Ms Molan asking the Daily Mail to front up with any information it has to support the claim she “refused to apologise” for the live radio remark and the Daily Mail pursuing communications between Ms Molan, the Nine Network, and its employees.
Each side says the other’s ask is unreasonable.
Justice Bromwich will hand down a decision next week.