This has not been a good week for the BBC’s host of Daily Politics Andrew Neil. The Great Man, who also hosts This Week, is in addition the current chairman of Press Holdings, the company which ultimately controls both the Telegraph titles, and the Spectator magazine. It has been the latter, or rather its Australian offshoot, which has capped a miserable week - after a mammoth and potentially fatal defamation award.
Spectator Australia was launched in 2008. It includes twelve pages of “Unique Australian Content”, plus its own editorial page, as well as the contents of the UK version of the publication. For the past three years, it has been edited by Rowan Dean, who was in the editor’s chair when the magazine ran an article about the 2011 floods that hit the Queensland town of Grantham, in which 12 people died.
The Guardian has noted that “A commission of inquiry in 2015 cleared the Wagners of any responsibility and inquiry head Walter Sofronoff QC concluded the flood was ‘a natural disaster and that no human agency caused it or could ever have prevented it’”. That did not stop Spectator Australia from running an article suggesting the Wagners were in some way to blame for the floods. So the four Wagner brothers sued.
stood firm. But now has come the climbdown: instead of allowing the defamation action to go to trial in Queensland, the magazine settled with the Wagners. The Guardian again: “Spectator Australia, the conservative magazine already struggling to survive with paid sales of about 8,000 copies, will be deeply wounded by a $572,674 payment to a Toowoomba family who say they were defamed by the publication”.
There was more: “Editor Rowan Dean, who was Mark Latham’s co-host on the doomed Sky News show Outsiders, has maintained his silence about the eye-watering sum and how it will affect the Australian arm of the UK magazine”. Interestingly, silence has also been the name of the game for Andrew Neil. But it hasn’t been for everyone.
Rowan Dean, editor of Spectator Australia. Or maybe not
The Murdoch Times, the otherwise anonymous Tweeter whose inside track on goings-on within the Murdoch empire, warned Neil continuously about Dean. After one poorly-received article came “Presumably the work of @rowandean. His boss @afneil thinks him one of Australia's finest writers”, and later “Note: @afneil's @SpectatorOz editor @rowandean dismissed credibly sourced #RoadToRuin book exposing his mate Tony Abbott without reading it”. Was it getting through? It seems not.
That was followed by “.@afneil's @SpectatorOz editor @rowandean: ‘Russia stopped shooting down planes in the Ukraine because of Tony Abbott.’ Hallucinatory guff”, and “Editorial standards at @AFNeil's @SpectatorOz are hopeless. Its editor @rowandean is a pretend journalist. It shows”. Then came the fall.
“We warned Tory windbag Andrew Neil that employing a conservative advertising executive with no journalism training as his Australian @spectator editor would be a disaster. He called us ‘pathetic’”. That payout equates to around £327,000 at current exchange rates. With legal fees, Spectator Australia could easily be looking at £500K.
The magazine could also be looking at closure. So who’s going to be carrying the can for the disastrous defamation? Dean will probably walk. What about Andrew Neil?