Jean Nassif, Nisserine Nassif: News report wrongly made out charity was a ‘scam’, court hears

It started with a video meme that had Australia talking. Now, the stars of the video are suing Channel 7 after it “jumped on the bandwagon”.

A report on Channel 7 nightly news implied a Sydney developer and his wife were “shonks” and suggested they could only afford an infamous yellow Lamborghini through business scams, a court has heard.

Nisserine “Nissy” Nassif is suing the network and journalist Bryan Seymour in the Federal Court over the February 2019 story, claiming it defamed her and the family-run charity she founded called Wiping Tears.

The report claimed the charity, set up to help disadvantaged families, spent only $5000 of $200,000 raised over three years and “did very little to help anyone”, the court heard.

The story, which also aired claims her husband Jean Nassif’s development company was behind on plans to build 700 car parks in Parramatta’s CBD, came hot on the heels of a viral video in which he presented a new Lamborghini to his wife.

In her opening address on Wednesday, Ms Nassif’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou said Channel 7 had “jumped on the bandwagon” of a meme ridiculing the Nassif’s social media video but claimed the broadcast went further to imply they could only afford the supercar by “rorting” their businesses.

Channel 7 are defending the claims and say the report was not defamatory. The network is not relying on a truth defence.

Ms Nassif is seeking damages for her charity’s reputation and aggravated damages for the hurt allegedly inflicted in her personally. The court heard the mother-of -three was “devastated” by the allegations.

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Ms Chrysanthou told the court financial records proved the charity had by February 2019 donated hundreds of thousands of dollars since it was founded in 2015, when Ms Nassif was inspired by a friend suffering from breast cancer.

“Which, frankly, is amazing. And a pretty different story to what was painted by Mr Seymour in the broadcast,” she said.

She alleged the network and Mr Seymour had acted with malice in running the story less than three hours after he sent questions to a rarely-checked company email of the Nassifs, who did not see the email.

As it went to air, the anchor introducing the story was seen to “smirk”, Ms Chrysanthou said, before Mr Seymour began to speak in a “sombre” tone as if he was reporting on a “crime”.

The story relied on a single financial statement from the charity dating back to 2017 and was “not urgent, breaking news”, the court heard.

“What Channel 7 did here was jump on the bandwagon to ridicule Mr and Ms Nassif and then to go on and suggest financial impropriety … suggesting to the reader that the reason they can afford this car is because Mr Nassif has engaged in financial impropriety (in his business) and Mrs Nassif has been rorting in relation to the charity,” she said.

The story opened with a shot of Ms Nassif leaning on the Lamborghini wearing a yellow top and pink sunglasses, with the caption “Lavish Gift”.

It included a snippet of Mr Nassif’s viral video and went on to include shots of the couple at dinner parties.

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Ms Chrysanthou alleged it set out to create the impression “these people are shonks, this is a scam. Look at their expensive car and look at them dressed up to the nines at an expensive party”.

In the broadcast, which was played in court, former 7 News reporter Mr Seymour could be heard saying the Nassifs “did not respond to our questions”.

Ms Chrysanthou said the journalist “didn’t bother to wait” but the reasonable viewer would think the Nassifs didn’t respond “because they have something to hide”.

“Your Honour will have noticed that Mr Seymour disingenuously points out that the respondent did not answer questions,” she said.

“Knowing, no doubt, that he only sent his email two hours earlier.”

The hearing continues before Justice Wendy Abraham.

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