The Walkley Foundation will withdraw an award given to Nine News reporters Peter Fegan and Rebeka Powell for an investigation into former federal politician Andrew Laming after an internal review.
The investigation of Laming won the Walkley award for television/video news reporting in 2021, but the foundation decided to review it after Nine News withdrew allegations and apologised to the former Liberal National MP.
Laming reached a confidential settlement in a defamation case he brought against Nine over the broadcast in March last year.
Nine Entertainment agreed to pay Laming an undisclosed amount and apologised for the story, which ran on Nine News Queensland.
It falsely accused him of taking an “upskirting” photograph of a woman while she was on her knees stacking a bar fridge. In the apology to Laming, Nine News said it had “now seen material which indicates that the photograph Dr Laming took was not lewd in nature”.
The Walkley Foundation said the defamation proceedings alone were not reason to withdraw the award.
“The directors appreciate that parties settle defamation proceedings for any number of reasons,” the foundation said in a statement.
“The Federal Court proceeding settling on confidential terms and the limited apology by Nine was not decisive by itself to justify the withdrawal of the award, but in all the circumstances the Board resolved the award could not be maintained in respect of the third report.” There were three news reports in the series.
Fegan and Powell were also awarded best TV news report and named joint journalist of the year at the Queensland Clarion awards. The Clarions are yet to comment on the award.
Laming welcomed the decision to withdraw the award and called on the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance to take similar action in respect of the duo’s Clarion award.
“The self-nominated award gave credibility to false and damaging allegations that should never have been published,” a spokesperson for Laming said.
“The Walkley Foundation judging panel were aware of Dr Laming’s legal complaints yet proceeded to grant the award without making any inquiries of him about the substance of those complaints.
“The Walkley Foundation and other bodies should review their processes when legal claims have been made in relation to nominated publications.”
The foundation said the first two reports in Nine News series contained allegations “that were very serious and raised important issues of public interest”, but the award could not be maintained solely upon those allegations.
Nine’s director of news and current affairs, Darren Wick, said: “This decision by the Walkley Foundation is extremely disappointing, and sets a very concerning precedent. Nine stands by the journalists involved and the importance of the work they produced, and as an organisation will not be deterred from pursuing challenging journalism that serves and informs the community.”
The Walkley Foundation is also undertaking a review of the organisation’s complaints mechanism after complaints by Laming.
Laming has already secured apologies from Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Labor senator Murray Watt, former Victorian senator Derryn Hinch, News Corp Australia journalist Eliza Barr and Queensland Labor party state MP Don Brown. The ABC has previously also settled a defamation case involving investigative reporter Louise Milligan and Laming.