Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys loses defamation case against ABC over animal cruelty report

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys has lost his defamation case against the ABC over a report showing graphic footage of retired racehorses being slaughtered at a Queensland abattoir.

Mientras que la 7.30 program titled The Final Race did not portray the chief executive in a positive light, it did not defame him, federal court justice Michael Wigney said on Friday.

V’landys sued the broadcaster and journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna over the October 2019 program which included confronting footage from the Meramis abattoir north of Brisbane.

It also included footage of cruel treatment of racehorses as they were transported to knackeries for slaughter and commentary by prominent campaigners against such cruelty.

A recorded interview with V’landys was juxtaposed with graphic images of the mistreatment of former thoroughbred horses. He claimed the report conveyed four defamatory meanings.

They included that as chief executive he “callously permitted the wholesale slaughter of thoroughbred horses” and “dishonestly asserted that no racehorses were sent to knackeries for slaughter” in NSW when he knew that was untrue.

V’landys said the broadcaster and Meldrum-Hanna acted dishonestly and deceitfully by not showing him the distressing abattoir footage before interviewing him.

That was said to have caused his reputation as a regulator to be undermined and his reputation to be brought into public disrepute, ridicule and contempt.

But the judge found the report did not portray V’landys as knowing thoroughbred horses were being slaughtered in abattoirs and knackeries and that his denials were untrue and dishonest.

Bastante, Wigney said, the message conveyed was that the slaughter was occurring because the rules that had supposedly been put in place to stop it from occurring were inadequate and ineffective.

They also weren’t being effectively policed by the regulators themselves, who were shown to be “asleep at the wheel”.

“The ordinary reasonable viewer was likely to have been disturbed and even angered by the graphic footage of cruelty to racehorses,” Wigney said. “The juxtaposition of that footage and Mr V’landys’ confident assertions about the effectiveness of Racing NSW’s rules made his assertions look rather foolish.”

It also tended to convey that the regulators, including V’landys, were ineffective if not incompetent when it came to dealing with the problem of “wastage” in the racing industry.

But it did not convey he actually knew that racehorses were being slaughtered and that his denials were callous and dishonest.

Given that he was a prominent figure in, and a staunch defender of, the thoroughbred racing industry, there could be no doubt he would have been upset and embarrassed by the report, but he was not defamed.

If he had been shown the footage, there could be little doubt that he, like any fair and right-minded person, would have roundly condemned the cruelty depicted in the footage.

V’landys was ordered to pay the broadcaster’s legal costs.

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