A report on Channel 7 nightly news implied a Sydney developer and his wife were “shocks” and suggested they could only afford an infamous yellow Lamborghini through business scams, a court has heard.
Nisserine “Nissy” Nassif is suing the network and journalist Bryan Seymour in the Federal Court over the February 2019 story, claiming it defamed her and the family-run charity she founded called Wiping Tears.
The report claimed the charity, set up to help disadvantaged families, spent only $5000 of $200,000 raised over three years and “did very little to help anyone”, the court heard.
The story, which also aired claims that her husband Jean Nassif’s development company was behind on plans to build 700 car parks in Parramatta’s CBD, came hot on the heels of a viral video in which he presented a new one Lamborghini to his wife.
On Wednesday, in her opening address, Ms. Nassif’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou said Channel 7 had “jumped on the bandwagon” of a meme ridiculing the Nassif’s social media video but claimed the broadcast went further to imply they could only afford the supercar by “rorting” their businesses.
Channel 7 is defending the claims and says the report was not defamatory. The network is not relying on a truth defense. Ms. Nassif seeks damages for her charity’s reputation and aggravated damages for the hurt allegedly inflicted on her. The court heard the mother-of-three was “devastated” by the allegations.
Ms. Chrysanthou told the court financial records proved the charity had by February 2019 donated hundreds of thousands of dollars since it was founded in 2015 when Ms. Nassif was inspired by a friend who has breast cancer. “Which, frankly, is amazing. And a pretty different story to what was painted by Mr Seymour in the broadcast,” she said.
She alleged the network and Mr Seymour had acted with malice in running the story less than three hours after he sent questions to a rarely-checked company email of the Nassifs, who did not see the email.
As it went to air, the anchor introducing the story was seen to “smirk”, Ms Chrysanthou said, before Mr. Seymour began to speak in a “somber” tone as if he was reporting on a “crime”. The story relied on a single financial statement from the charity dating back to 2017 and was “not urgent, breaking news”, the court heard.
“What Channel 7 did here was jump on the bandwagon to ridicule Mr. and Ms. Nassif and then to go on and suggest financial impropriety … suggesting to the reader that the reason they can afford this car is that Mr. Nassif has engaged in financial impropriety (in his business) and Mrs Nassif has been rorting in relation to the charity,” she said.