Defamed duo seek damages from ABC

Sydney, Australia - A biologist and a well-known mountaineer are seeking compensation from the ABC after the national broadcaster was found to have defamed them by implying they were setting up a cult.

In 2003 a NSW Supreme Court jury found an ABC Four Corners program aired in 1995 had defamed biologist Jeremy Griffith and Mount Everest conqueror and author Tim Macartney-Snape.

Mr Griffith and Mr Macartney-Snape are co-directors of an organisation called Foundation for Humanity's Adulthood (FHA), which was formed around Mr Griffith's work and ideas on the human condition.

Four Corners was found to have defamed Mr Griffith by implying that his work as a scientist was of such a poor standard that it had no support from the scientific community.

The jury also found Mr Macartney-Snape was defamed by the implication he had deceived schools that invited him to talk about Mt Everest by exploiting the occasion to promote Mr Griffith's ideas.

The program's guest producer, Reverend David Millikan, was also successfully sued by the pair.

A four-week hearing to determine defences and damages began on Wednesday in the NSW Supreme Court.

Barrister for Mr Griffith and Mr Macartney-Snape, Kieran Smark, said the evidence would show Dr Millikan and the ABC set out to present his clients as being in the process of forming a cult.

"There are two great strains of malice (in this case) - both in the way the program was assembled, and also Dr Millikan's evident desire ... to capture Mr Griffith and Mr Macartney-Snape in a way which permit them to be portrayed as in the early stages of setting up a cult," he said.

Mr Smark said this was evident in a letter Dr Millikan sent to Four Corners producer Ian Carroll, in which he wrote: "There is no question in my mind that he (Mr Griffith) in the early stages of starting up a cult.

"He has the fanaticism, the hatred of opposing forces ... "

Mr Smark said certain interviews and talks shown in the documentary had been edited in a way which altered their meaning.

He said the program included 15 seconds of footage taken from a 90-minute talk Mr Griffith gave in which he turned to the camera and said "f**king kill him, f**king kill him".

"The excerpt ... is used repeatedly. It's used at the outset of the program and again through the program," Mr Smark said.

But Mr Smark said the matter Mr Griffith was referring to at the time was unrelated to the subject of the talk.

"It was a passage which Dr Millikan and (Four Corners producer) Deborah Masters must have known was in no way representative of the talk as a whole, nor was it even on the subject matter of the talk," he said.

The hearing before Justice David Kirby continues.