The ABC portrayed Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys as a “spineless liar” who knew about the slaughter of race horses at knackeries and abattoirs, a court has heard.
Mr V’landys has claimed he suffered reputational damage and personal hurt over a bombshell 7.30 program that aired in October last year and is suing the public broadcaster for defamation.
Following the conclusion of a Federal Court hearing on Thursday, Justice Michael Wigney reserved his decision, which he will deliver at a later date.
The program showed footage of horses being slaughtered at an abattoir at Meramist, north of Brisbane.
Mr V’landys has claimed the program was a “10 out of 10 stitch up” and “ambushed” him because journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna and the producers failed to show him the footage that was obtained through a covert undercover operation.
“A reasonable person would be perfectly entitled to take from this program the imputation that my client was a spineless liar,” Mr V’landys’ barrister Bruce McClintock said.
“The explanations for what’s being seen are so feeble and so pathetic in the context of what’s being shown.”
The ABC on Thursday claimed that the program portrayed Mr V’landys as a “pioneer” in animal welfare and a “leader in his field”.
But it was described as an “extremely skilful and dishonest piece of journalism” by Mr McClintock.
Mr V’landys has claimed the show failed to make clear that he had no jurisdiction over Queensland racehorses.
During his testimony, he pointed to the regulations, and checks and balances that Racing NSW has put in place to ensure thoroughbreds are retired humanely.
“It’s structured in a way to put across a specific message … there’s been a hideous failure in this industry, we name the guilty people, or man – Peter V’landys,” Mc McClintock said.
Mr V’landys took over from former Queensland premier Peter Beattie as Australian Rugby League Commission chairman just weeks after the program went to air and ABC barrister Sandy Dawson SC argued he had not suffered any reputational damage.
Mr Dawson pointed out that he was well regarded in the community having guided the NRL through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justice Wigney added: “I think that’s why Roy and HG call him the man of golden feathers.”
The Final Race, which was on Thursday nominated for a Walkley Award, was described by Mr Dawson as a “call to arms” for animal lovers of all persuasions.
Rather than an attack on Mr V’landys, he said both animal activists and the regulator agreed there were gaps in Racing NSW’s thorough attempts to track racehorses post-retirement.
“What Ms Meldrum-Hanna says is you’ve got a rule, there’s a regulator who’s committed, who’s a pioneer and a leader in this field,” Mr Dawson said.
“They’ve got intelligence networks, they’ve got people policing it, they’re doing everything that the animal welfare experts think they should be doing, but somehow this is still happening.”
While Mr Dawson said Racing NSW would be “embarrassed” by the program, it was an expose of the seedy “underbelly” of the industry.
The shocking acts of cruelty were happening “behind closed doors and hidden from the view of the regulator,” he said.
“The point of the program is to expose what is really happening in knackeries and abattoirs which is not supposed to be happening,” Mr Dawson said.
“Not because it’s illegal, but because it’s against what the racing industry has set as its own standard.”
Originally published as ‘Hideous failure’: ABC accused of ‘dishonesty’