Former Seven Network sports journalist Josh Massoud has lost a defamation appeal over reports he was fired after threatening to slit a junior colleague’s throat.
Massoud sued over publications on his suspension and later dismissal after phoning reporter Jack Warren saying: “If you weren’t so young, I’d come up there and rip your head off and s— down your throat.”
The Sydney-based journalist believed his colleague, who was working in Maroochydore, Queensland at the time, had mistakenly published an exclusive story contrary to an embargo.
Warren was brought to tears by this call and left work early in distress.
The story, which was about a high-profile rugby league player transferring from his Queensland club to Sydney, may not actually have been an exclusive, the court found.
Massoud alleged The Daily Telegraph, Fox Sports, 2GB, Nine – the publisher of this website – and KIIS 106.5 defamed him by wrongly suggesting he had wanted to “slit” Warren’s throat in the phone call.
In July last year, District Court Judge Judith Gibson dismissed the cases, finding that most of the publications were substantially true and that Massoud was not entitled to damages.
On Thursday, the NSW Court of Appeal upheld this decision, throwing out the lawsuits and ordering the ex-journalist to pay the media outlets’ costs.
Justice Mark Leeming, supported by the other two appeal judges, found Massoud had threatened Warren despite never having met him in person
“The sense of the words Mr Massoud in fact used was to convey and reinforce the anger Mr Massoud felt at what Mr Warren had done, to intimidate him and belittle him,” the judge wrote.
Whether using the word s— or slit, the meaning behind the statement was the same and could not be taken literally, Justice Leeming noted.
“He was not threatening in fact to rip off Mr Warren’s head and defecate down his throat. Likewise, if Mr Massoud had said that he would slit Mr Warren’s throat, he would not have been understood as in fact threatening to do that.”
Massoud failed to show any error in Judge Gibson’s decision, the appeals court said.