Nine brought to heel over cavoodle custody reports

Miklos Bolza |

Gina Edwards has been awarded $150,000 for Nine reports of a custody dispute over cavoodle Oscar.
Gina Edwards has been awarded $150,000 for Nine reports of a custody dispute over cavoodle Oscar.

Broadcaster Nine has been sent to the doghouse for its sensationalist reporting of a custody dispute over an Insta-famous cavoodle from Sydney’s ritzy lower north shore.

The network will have to pay Oscar’s owner, barrister Gina Edwards, $150,000 including in aggravated damages after a hotly defended defamation proceedings in the Federal Court.

Ms Edwards sued Nine over two TV broadcasts and two articles by A Current Affair regarding the custody dispute with former friend Mark Gillespie over the cavoodle.

Cavoodle Oscar arrives at the Federal Court
Oscar the Insta-famous cavoodle was the subject of a bitter custody battle. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

On Friday, Justice Michael Wigney called Nine’s reports from May and June 2021 “extravagant, excessive and sensationalist”.

“The broadcasts and accompanying articles were produced and edited in such a sensationalist way as to unnecessarily and unjustifiably deprecate and humiliate Ms Edwards,” he wrote in a 130-page judgment.

The reports wrongly portrayed the barrister as a dog thief who had stolen Oscar for her own financial benefit which included claims she was “living the high life” rolling in endorsements from pet companies.

Nine and ACA journalist Steve Marshall pursued and harassed the Sydney barrister at a park and at her chambers with this footage used in the television reports, he found.

The demeaning tenor and tone towards Ms Edwards, including describing her as a “dog-sitter,” aggravated the hurt and suffering she felt as a result, the judge said.

Nine made no effort to independently investigate Mr Gillespie’s claims and failed to contact Ms Edwards to get her side of the story, he found.

This “blind acceptance” of Mr Gillespie’s allegations, and the refusal of Nine to remove the broadcasts from the website as requested, further aggravated the hurt and distress caused, Justice Wigney said.

Gina Edwards, with her Cavoodle Oscar, arrives at the Federal Court
Pooches from across the city came decked out in costumes and bow ties for lavish parties. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

The judge found Ms Edwards ultimately obtained Oscar by deception in 2019 by falsely claiming he was to be on a Channel Seven show Pooch Perfect.

However, the barrister did not steal the cavoodle because she held a genuine but incorrect belief at the time that she was the dog’s co-owner, he said.

“Ms Edwards could not be said to have been guilty of larceny or stealing in circumstances where it could not be said that she did not have a genuine and honest claim of right in respect of Oscar,” he wrote.

During a hearing in December 2022, the barrister said Oscar had been jointly taken care of by her, her husband Ken Flavell and cruise worker Mr Gillespie as “one mummy and two daddies”.

Prior to the falling out, the three had lived life as a “strange little urban family” and held lavish parties for birthdays, Halloweens and other occasions, when pooches from across the city came decked out in costumes and bow ties, she told the court.

The custody battle between Ms Edwards and Mr Gillespie went to the NSW Supreme Court before settling in November 2021, with the Kirribilli couple retaining ownership of the dog.

The defamation case will return to the Federal Court on May 16 when final orders will be made.

This will include arguments about whether Nine should be ordered to remove the articles and how the legal costs will be paid.

Nine has declined to comment on the judgment.