Defamation. Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.

The action of damaging the good reputation of someone; slander or libel.

Slander: verbal, spoken         Libel: published, written

A statement is defamatory if it is untrue and damages a person or company’s reputaion.

In law a statement is defamatory if it tends to:

  • Expose to hatred,ridicule or contempt.
  • Causes them to be shunned or avoided.
  • Lowers them in the esteem of right thinking members of society.
  • Disparges them in their business, trade, office or profession.

Person complaining doesn’t have to prove it is defamatory just that it tends to be defamatory.

3 things person must prove for a defamation claim:

  1. It refers to him.
  2. It is defamatory.
  3. It has been published to a third person.

N.B. Papers at risk of defamation if don’t publish age and address of a criminal in case there is a person with same name.

Defamation Defences

Journalists have 7 defences against a defamation claim:

Justification (truth)-You have to prove the words were substantially true on the balance of probabilities. e.g. can say the Yorkshire Ripper is a serial killer because he is.

Fair Comment-an honest opinion without malice.

Absolute Privelege-you have absolute privelege for fair, accurate, contemporaneous court reports. You can print anything said in court as long as you publish both the prosecution and the defence case within  days of the hearing. Even if you are later found not guilty, you can print that someone has been called a paedophile or murderer in court. You also have absolute privelege for comments made in parliament and the House of Lords.

Qualified Privelege-This is for a fair, accurate report, published without malice, on a matter of public interest. You have qualified privelege on press conferences and meetings. You are covered for things people say in police press conferneces, council meetins, football press conferences, inquiries, village hall meetings.-

Accord and Satisfaction-This is where you have printed a defamatory statement and agree to print a correction. Only works if the person accepts that they are happy with this.

The Reynolds defence-It can be used to report a story which is in the public interest, even if it cannot be proved and includes a defamatory statement as long as it’s responsible journalism.

N.B. Newpaper’s have added defence of Section One Defence which protects it from comments placed on its website by readers.

You can’t defame a dead person.

You can only be sued for a year after the article was printed.

A man can’t sue for defamation if he agreed to the article being printed.


The Reynolds Defence

‘The Reynolds defence comes from a case brought by the then Irish prime minister, Albert Reynolds, against the Sunday Times. Mr Reynolds objected to a 1994 article claiming he had misled parliament entitled “Goodbye Gombeen Man” – a reference to an Irish phrase used to describe a wheeler dealer. After a complicated 24-day trial Mr Reynolds won a symbolic one penny in compensation but the important point was the case’s place in the development of British libel law.

Three years later the House of Lords decided to allow the media to plead the Reynolds defence – which meant newspapers could print untrue and defamatory information if they could prove it was in the public interest to publish it and that it was the product of responsible journalism.’

extract from the following article:

Useful websites for reference:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s