The Daily Mail Australia editor, Barclay Crawford, sent an email to a journalist saying “Let’s rip into this sheila” before the website published an article about the sports broadcaster Erin Molan, the federal court has heard.
The 39-year-old is suing the Daily Mail Australia for defamation over one article and two tweets that she says portray her as a racist, after she said “hooka looka mooka hooka fooka” on air in May 2020.
Molan told the court she felt “sick, angry, upset, hurt and confused” after reading news reports that prompted a barrage of online abuse.
The news website is arguing a truth defence and denies running an illegitimate campaign against her.
Crawford sent the email before publication of the June 2020 article, which said Molan had “refused to apologise … for her jibe on live radio”, the court heard.
Half an hour before publication she was contacted by another journalist asking if she was going to apologise, to which she did not respond before publication. However, she did address the incident on 2GB radio that afternoon.
“I would never intentionally offend or hurt anyone’s feelings. If I’ve done that I’m very sorry,” she said at the time.
Molan told the court the claim that she had refused to apologise led to her feeling almost “incapable of functioning”.
Her lawyer, Kieran Smark SC, said the content of the story implied she was “an arrogant woman of white privilege”, with her conduct so offensive she had been “slammed” by Pacific Islander women, among other defamatory imputations.
The Nine Network presenter had been co-hosting the Continuous Call Team segment on the 2GB rugby league show when she referred to a previously broadcast story about Ray and Chris Warren mixing up the end of football players’ names.
Molan said she was contacted by a journalist from the Mail, who she explained the reference to, and never said the phrase had been an “inside joke”, as was attributed to her in the Mail story.
Molan was speaking “gibberish”, Smark said.
“The Daily Mail took something that perhaps was silly, perhaps was frivolous … and turned it into something which was sinister and immensely damaging to [her] reputation,” he said.
After the story was published, the court heard, she became the subject of a “social media frenzy”, including comments from the former NRL player John Hopoate.
Hopoate allegedly posted on Instagram: “It was an inside joke between colleagues so it’s OK. Just like when I accidentally trip this RACIST BITCH over and she falls and scrapes her RACIST mouth on the ground.”
Smark said: “This is a response to the Daily Mail articles, not her conduct, but the news story the Daily Mail has manufactured out of a small innocuous … or attempt at a funny piece on a live air show.”
Molan told the court she had never deliberately intended to mock an ethnic group.
She and her fellow co-hosts had made “poor attempts” at a range of accents for many years, including American, Chinese, Scottish and Indian, she told the court.
While she had “butchered” some players’ names in the past, she took pronunciation very seriously and “absolutely” held respect for all people’s backgrounds, she said.
She said it would be “almost impossible” for work she did for charities to continue if people believed she was a racist because “it’s unacceptable”.
The broadcaster is due to be cross-examined by the Daily Mail’s barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, on Tuesday.