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ABC News

Network Ten files defence in defamation case, including questions media outlet says it sent to Bruce Lehrmann

Bruce Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over an interview aired on The Project. (ABC News: Donal Sheil)

Network Ten has laid out its defence in defamation proceedings brought by former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann over an interview on The Project alleging the rape of Brittany Higgins.

Mr Lehrmann was not named during the program, which aired in February 2021, prior to him being charged with the alleged offence.

But he has lodged defamation proceedings in the Federal Court, claiming he could easily have been identified from the material.

Mr Lehrmann has consistently and repeatedly maintained he is innocent of allegations of raping Ms Higgins.

His trial was abandoned because of juror misconduct, and a retrial was later set aside because of fears for Ms Higgins's health.

There have been no findings against him.

He is now seeking damages from Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over the program, as well as against News Life Media and journalist Samantha Maiden over a similar story published online on the same day.

In its defence to the defamation action filed on Tuesday, Network Ten said it would seek to establish that the reporting was true and also rely on the defence of qualified privilege in the case.

Lisa Wilkinson, pictured here with Brittany Higgins, will seek to establish qualified privilege and truth defences to defend herself in a defamation case brought by Mr Lehrmann. (Instagram: Lisa Wilkinson)

The media company also responded to claims from Mr Lehrmann that he was not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations prior to the interview — believed to have been viewed by 720,000 people — going to air.

As part of its defence, Network Ten said it made "reasonable attempts" to obtain Mr Lehrmann's side of the story, including by calls, via a text message and through emails.

Court documents contain an email sent by a producer of The Project setting out a series of 16 questions for Mr Lehrmann, including "Did you rape Brittany Higgins as alleged?" and "Are you available for an interview with the Project?".

Ten's defence documents say Mr Lehrmann did not respond to any of its attempts to contact him.

Last week, Wilkinson filed her defence, saying, similar to Network Ten, that she would seek to prove a truth defence that Mr Lehrmann did rape Ms Higgins.

All media outlets now indicating they will seek to establish truth in reporting

During a brief mention in the Federal Court late on Wednesday afternoon, News Life Media and Maiden also indicated they would seek to establish qualified privilege and truth defences in the case.

Mr Lehrmann's lawyer Steve Whybrow told the court his client should be allowed to bring the defamation action, even though it had been more than a year since the publication of the news stories.

Mr Whybrow said Mr Lehrmann had been unable to take action earlier, partly because of the criminal trial he faced late last year.

The court also discussed limiting the actions, so that Mr Lehrmann would not face being cross-examined multiple times, as the case unfolded.

The case will return to court next week.

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