An ‘unfiltered’ interview with Meghan Markle’s estranged father on Channel Seven’s Sunrise breakfast program has landed the network in a major defamation lawsuit. Jeff Rayner, a LA-based photographer, who took staged photos of Mr Markle just days before her wedding to Prince Harry, is suing Seven in the Federal Court of Australia. Mr Markle made several claims about the paparazzi photographer during the live TV interview last September, including that he was associated with the disgraced Hollywood movie executive Harvey Weinstein. He alleged Mr Rayner had taken ‘compromising’ photographs of Mr Weinstein’s victims to dissuade them from suing the now convicted sex offender.
In a transcript of the interview filed to the court, the former Hollywood lighting director claimed he was ‘set-up’ by Mr Rayner and a business partner. ‘The whole thing was a plan to actually mess up the wedding, I was just part of it,’ Mr Markle alleged in the live interview on Sunrise. ‘Basically they went to my oldest daughter and convinced my oldest daughter to convince me to have photographs to clean up my image because the photographs before that were always making me look bad.
‘I mean I’m tempted to sue him. If I fail in suing him I hope to see him someday with Weinstein because he was also shooting young women for Weinstein to make them look bad so they couldn’t sue him for rape.’ Mr Rayner’s statement of claim alleges Mr Markle implied he is a ‘dishonest management consultant who conned Mr Markle (by deceiving his daughter Samantha) into participating in a photographic shoot as part of a plan to disrupt the royal wedding of Meghan Markle’.
It also states that he ‘conspired with Harvey Weinstein, a notorious rapist, to take compromising pictures of Harvey Weinstein’s victims that could be used to discourage those women from suing Harvey Weinstein’. It claimed Channel Seven should have considered the ‘reasonable likelihood’ that Meghan’s estranged father would make defamatory comments about Mr Rayner. He said the network had failed to pre-record the interview and that Mr Markle’s comments had caused harm to both his personal and professional reputation.
Mr Rayner, who has family in Australia, said he suffered hurt, distress and embarrassment as a result of the interview, which caused harm to his personal and professional reputation. The day after the interview, Sunrise hosts David Koch and Natalie Barr extended an on-air apology for Mr Markle’s ‘unfounded allegations’ with a statement also shared on the network’s news website. ‘On yesterday’s program in a live interview Thomas Markle, not uncharacteristically, went a bit rogue and made some pretty wild and unfounded allegations against Jeff Rayner, an Los Angeles based photographer,’ Koch said.
‘Seven did not intend for such allegations to be broadcast and has subsequently removed them from all versions of the program,’ Barr continued. ‘We would like to apologise to those gentleman named by Mr Markle, that the allegations went to air.’ However, Mr Rayner has described the apology as ‘inadequate’ and accused the hosts of delivering the 47-second clip in a ‘sarcastic and flippant’ manner. The photographer is seeking an unspecified amount in aggravated damages. He claims Seven ought to have known that there was a likelihood of Mr Markle making defamatory comments and that they failed to prerecord the interview.
Seven are yet to file a defence with no court date set for the matter.