Defamation – Law of Torts – Notes

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Defamation is a statement calculated to escape a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule or to injure him in his trade, business, profession, calling or office. It is of two types i.e. libel and slander.

Libel is a form of defamation in permanent form such as written documents. It in itself is infringement of plaintiff’s rights and no actual damage is required.

Yousoupoff v. M.G.M. Pictures Ltd.[(1934) 50 TLR 581] – The movie figuratively showed plaintiff’s wife being seduced by someone else. It was decided that in a cinema film, not only the photographic part is considered to be a libel but also the speech which synchronises with it is also a libel.

Innuendo – Explanatory averment in the statement of claim defining the meaning which plaintiff assigns to the complained of or specifying the plaintiff as the person to whom they apply.

Cassidy v. Daily Mirror ([1929] 2 KB 331) – The defendant published a photo in which plaintiff’s husband was posing with a girl and published that the husband will marry this girl. This implied that plaintiff was a kept off and hence suit was found to be maintainable and plaintiff was awarded damages.

Slander is the defamation is an oral or transient form addressed to the ear. Slander may be uttered in the heat of the moment and under sudden provocation. In India, Slander is both a tort and crime but in England slander is civil wrong only. Slander is the defamation in a transient form, whether audible, as in spoken words, or visible, as in the case of gesture. Slander is actionable only if plaintiff is able to show special damages. (Frank Flaman Wholesale Ltd. v. Firman [1982] S.J. No. 279)

The following are defence to defamation-

Truth – In a defamation case, the defendant can only be held liable if the statement involved was false. A true statement does not meet the legal requirements for defamation.

Absolute Privileges – Some defendants are protected from liability in a defamation action based on the defendant’s position or status. Absolute privileges apply to the following proceedings and circumstances:

  • judicial proceedings
  • legislative proceedings
  • some executive statements and publications
  • publications between spouses
  • publications required by law

 Conditional/Qualified Privileges – These privileges do not arise as a result of the person making the communication, but rather arise from the particular occasion during which the statement was made. These privileges are known as conditional, or qualified, privileges. Conditional privileges apply to the following types of communications:

  • A statement that is made for the protection of the publisher’s interest
  • A statement that is made for the protection of the interests of a third person
  • A statement that is made for the protection of common interest
  • A statement that is made to ensure the well-being of a family member
  • A statement that is made where the person making the communication believes that the public interest requires communication of the statement to a public officer or other official
  • A statement that is made by an inferior state officer who is not entitled to an absolute privilege

 Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd ([2001] 2 AC 127) – The Plaintiff, an Irish politician sued defendants for an article published in their newspaper. The Plaintiff claimed that the words in the article bore the meaning that he had deliberately lied to mislead his cabinet colleagues. The Defendants pleaded the defence of qualified privilege. The court refused to accept the defendant’s plea and observed that a new subject matter category of qualified privilege whereby the publication of all political information would attract qualified privilege whatever the circumstances, would fail to provide adequate protection for reputation.

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