The legal wrangling between former Network 10 political editor Peter van Onselen and the broadcaster headed to NSW High Court today.
The saga arose after van Onselen wrote an article in The Australian about the business prospects of the network, including parent company Paramount.
But 10 sued for breach of its outlet deal, with PVO leaving the network in March to return to academia.
Today his high-profile lawyer, Sue Chrysanthou SC, argued that the non-disparagement clause was overbearing.
He suggested that PVO would technically be in contempt of court if he were dissatisfied with his Paramount+ subscription and wrote an email of complaint.
“It violates him if he says to his mates in the pub ‘I’m surprised Network 10 bought that programme, it’s not a good programme’,” Ms Chrysanthou said.
“It’s a life order against a person whose profession is to speak, and just the fact that he could talk about Rete 10 all his life in glowing terms would affect his legitimacy and professionalism as a commentator and as an academic.”
Judge David Hammerschlag asked, “Well then why did he sign it? This is a contract case.
Paramount HR executive Anthony McDonald also said he did not remember a conversation he had during the negotiations to fire Dr. van Onselen.
The court was told Mr. van Onselen said in a telephone interview with Paramount vice president of human resources Anthony McDonald, “I assume the act does not eliminate my right to speak about the network in perpetuity.
“If the CEO fucked a goat and everyone was piling up, would I be able to do that?”
Ms Chrysanthou told the court that Mr McDonald allegedly replied: “Yeah sure mate.”
Mr McDonald told the court he did not remember the conversation and said it had not happened.
The court was told that the summons would even prohibit Mr. van Onselen to comment negatively on Paramount’s international employees, including the “tea lady from New York”.
“This summons is a life order against a person whose profession is to talk and talk about politics and the media,” Chrysanthou said.
“This order would mean that my client would have to ensure that when criticizing other media outlets, they are not criticizing Network 10, one of the few free-to-air TV stations.”
Van Onselen agreed not to disparage or ridicule the network or its staff until the case was finalized. He is currently visiting the Amalfi Coast.
Separately, 10 is also fighting a business case with reporter Tegan George and denies her workplace claims raised regarding Van Onselen.