A former rugby league journalist has lost his defamation case against media outlets for misquoting him as saying he would slit a junior colleague’s throat when he had in fact threatened to rip the 18-year-old’s head off and sh-t down his neck.
Joshua Massoud was dismissed from Channel 7 after placing an abusive phone call to the young social media producer on May 1, 2018.
The long-time sports reporter made a series of increasingly angry calls after realising his exclusive story about Todd Carney’s comeback plans had been tweeted out by 7 News Queensland ahead of time.
After tracking down the number of the employee who posted the tweet, Mr Massoud called and told him: “If you weren’t so young, I’d come up there and rip your head off and sh-t down your throat.”
The young man – the son of a Channel 7 executive and in his first paid job – apologised “at least four times” on the phone and broke down crying after the call. He now works at a bank.
Mr Massoud’s remark, which he described as “colourful”, was subsequently misreported as a threat to slit the junior employee’s throat.
He launched lawsuits against 2GB, Nine, Fox Sports, KIIS and Nationwide News (the publisher of NCA NewsWire) alleging he had been defamed by the misquote in 16 different publications.
But Judge Judith Gibson ruled in favour of the publishers in the NSW District Court on Thursday, finding a threat to slit someone’s throat, held against a threat to rip off their head, is “a distinction without a difference”.
She also rejected an argument from Mr Massoud’s lawyer that the caveat “if you weren’t so young” meant what he said was not a threat at all.
The graphic comment about sh–tting down the young employee’s neck was “particularly repugnant”, Judge Gibson wrote.
She also found Mr Massoud had labelled the employee a “millennial turd” who should be “in the Centrelink queue the next day” in a phone call with another reporter.
The judge ruled the media had made out their truth defence, also finding they had proved Mr Massoud was a bully who threatened and intimidated his work colleagues.
He developed a poor reputation during his decade at News Corp, where his boss, Tim Morrissey, likened his eventual departure to “a dark cloud lifting and sunshine coming out”, Judge Gibson wrote.
Her judgment details Mr Massoud’s run-ins with colleagues both junior and senior, the picture desk, lawyers, the NRL media operations manager and a taxi driver.
Mr Morrissey told the court he had “never experienced any other employee at News, or even any other employee I have come across within sport at other organisations, to behave (the way) that Josh would on a regular occasion”.
“Just the way that he would belittle, bully, denigrate fellow employees … it was just extraordinary because Josh, you know, had the potential to be such a great journalist and he just seemed to keep getting in the way of himself, sabotaging his own career.”
By the time Mr Massoud arrived at Channel 7, he had a reputation for being “very difficult to manage” and quickly became “the most disliked person in the newsroom” according to testimony from the news director.
Mr Massoud contended his behaviour was at times “appalling” but not bullying and had to be viewed in the context of a newsroom, where arguments and swearing were not unusual.
He told the court he said what he did to the young employee as a segue into “ending the phone call and proceeding to give him a bit of advice about journalism”.
Mr Massoud was ordered to pay the media outlets’ costs.