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Monday, December 3, 2012

Defamation: Defamatory Statement


         Defamatory Statement: 

         The first requirement for a defamation action is that the statement or comment must be defamatory, and damaging the persons character, financial status, moral or reputation. Defamation is only when the statement or comment has tendency to injure a person’s reputation.
If a write or say of a man something that will disparage him in the eye of particular section of society but will not affect his reputation in the eye of the average right-thinking man is not actionable within the law of defamation. Tolley V. Fry (1930) 1 KB 467
Case example:
1 .        In Berkoff v Burchill [1996] 4 ALL ER 1008, a well-known journalist twice made remarks about Stephen Breakoff, an actor and director. She said that "film directors from Hitchcock to Breakoff are notoriously hideous-looking people" then in another review about Frankenstein she compared the monster's appearance to Breakoff, saying the monster was marginally better looking. Were the words 'hideously ugly' capable of being defamatory? The Court of Appeal said that words can be defamatory if they hold the claimant up to contempt, scorn or ridicule or tend to exclude him from society. The court emphasized that the statement was to be judged from the perspective of the reader and not according to the intention of the maker. In finding for the Claimant, the court said that the comments by the Defendant didn't just make the Claimant sound ugly but extremely repulsive and that this could be defamatory to a person who made part of his living as an actor. They said that most right-minded individuals wouldn't shun a person simply because of their looks, as opposed to if that person had a disease or was a criminal, but because of the profession of the Claimant the statement amounted to defamation. In a dissenting judgment Millet LJ said that words cannot be defamatory if the readers understood them to be a joke, even if it was a true joke.

2.      In Charleston v News Group Newspapers [1995] 2 AC 65, two popular characters from the TV show Neighbors were portrayed on the front cover of a newspaper naked except for black leather engaged in sexual intercourse. The title read "Strewth! What's Harold up to without Madge? Porn shocker for Neighbors stars" however the captions on the pictures made clear that the images were false. The image was taken from a sordid computer game which had computer-generated the images. The rest of the article condemned the game in a tone which can be contrasted with the prominence given to the image. The House of Lords accepted that the image must have deeply offensive but said that it was not defamatory since a publication has to be read as a whole. Even though the image and headline were libelous the remainder of the article had a neutralizing effect.

3.      Other examples of defamation

In the past there were several cases where accusing someone of being homosexual was defamation. However, as society has changed so too has the 'right-thinking man' and it is likely that nowadays such an accusation would not be defamatory. In respect of money, to say that someone is insolvent will be actionable as it will almost certainly stop people from trading with them, but to say simply that they owe money will not usually, as many people owe money quite frequently: Wolfenden v Giles (1982) 2 Br Col R 284.

4.     Sim v Stretch (1936) 52 TLR 669,
"The conventional phrase exposing the plaintiff to hatred, ridicule, contempt' is probably too narrow ... after collating the opinions of many authorities I propose in the present case the test: would the words tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally ?" (emphasis added)