MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo has filed suit against The Australian over claims of defamation.
Zonfrillo, who shot to public prominence this year as one of the new judges on the refreshed MasterChef, has launched the Federal Court action against the News Corp paper, over claims the publication defamed him in an article and Facebook post published in August.
That article, published both online and in print on August 9th and 10th, asserted that Zonfrillo “dishonestly claimed” to offer support an Indigenous-run prawn farm in a bid to boost his chances of winning the prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize. The article – headlined ‘Chef Jock Zonfrillo offered support, farm comes up empty’ – claims Zonfrillo visited the Emama Nguda Aboriginal Corporation in Western Australia and offered to help out with their prawn farm operations. The article asserts the visit took place “a few months” before the Basque Prize was awarded in 2018. Zonfrillo was ultimately awarded the prize in August of that year.
Lawyers acting for Zonfrillo steadfastly deny the allegations, asserting that Jock was not even aware of the farm’s existence, and did not visit it, until a month after he was awarded the prize.
A statement of claim filed by Zonfrillo’s legal team asserts The Australian defamed him by “cynically pretended he had a genuine commitment to assisting an Aboriginal community for the purpose of obtaining an award and prizemoney.” Additionally, the claim asserts The Australian defamed Mr Zonfrillo by insinuating that he failed to deliver on an Indigenous food database, for which he received a $1.25 million Government grant. On that charge, lawyers assert the database was completed by Zonfrillo’s Orana Foundation in May, and that the document was now being subjected to a legal review process.
Per court documents, Jock Zonfrillo is seeking damages and aggravated damages, as well as interest and costs. The claim also seeks to have the article in question retracted, and the subsequent Facebook post promoting the article deleted.
Representatives for The Australian have yet to file a defence in this matter.