The Daily Mail Australia is appealing a defamation win by Sky News broadcaster Erin Molan, who was awarded $150,000 over an article and two tweets that accused her of appearing to mock Polynesian names in a radio broadcast.
Molan told the federal court last year she did not think she was mocking Polynesian names when she said “hooka looka mooka hooka fooka” on Radio 2GB in 2020.
Molan left Channel Nine and 2GB last year to join Sky News and is a radio presenter on 2DayFM and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.
She denied she was engaging in casual racism when she repeatedly laughed about the mispronunciation of Polynesian, Chinese, Indian and Japanese names on the rugby league radio show.
In a notice of appeal lodged in the federal court on Tuesday the Daily Mail said Justice Robert Bromwich erred on 13 points and the damages awarded to Molan were “manifestly excessive”.
“The primary judge erred in finding that the respondent had not mocked the names of Pacific Islanders on air,” the application seen by Guardian Australia said.
In his decision in Molan’s favour last month Bromwich said the journalist would have caused offence by uttering the phrase “hooka looka mooka hooka fooka” on live radio.
He found the former Nine broadcaster to have been “ignorant or thoughtless” in saying those words on 2GB.
After the decision was handed down managing director of Daily Mail Australia, Peter Holder, said the company was “very disappointed” and was considering an appeal.
Holder said the judge found Molan engaged in conduct that was likely to offend people because of their race or ethnic origin.
“It is also worth noting the court further held that while the Daily Mail article did not call Ms Molan a racist and that it was therefore not appropriate to make any determination on that issue, by reason of her ‘intemperate behaviour’ in prior broadcasts – including faking accents, and arguably advancing racial stereotypes – she was at ‘some peril’ of an adverse conclusion,” Holder said.
In her evidence Molan said the broadcast had nothing to do with mocking someone’s name and ethnicity and that “it was a running joke on the show to attempt to do accents from all over the world” and the humour lay in the hosts laughing at their own “bad” accents.
In his judgement Bromwich found that Molan was not putting on a Polynesian or Pacific Islander accent on the radio program but rather putting on an accent of her colleague Ray Warren, who had stumbled over the names.
Bromwich said each side had a “measure of success and a measure of failure”.
The court found five of the eight imputations Molan alleged were wrongly conveyed by the Daily Mail, including that she “deliberately mocked the names of Pacific Islanders on air” and that her “inability to pronounce the names of Polynesian NRL players is so disrespectful and incompetent that she is unfit to be an NRL commentator”.
But Bromwich found that “the most serious pleaded imputation”, that Molan is a racist, was not conveyed.
The trial heard that Daily Mail Australia’s editor, Barclay Crawford, had sent an email to a journalist saying “Let’s rip into this sheila” before the website published an article about Molan.