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Q&As and counting

January 2019

Elements of defamation - Newspaper articles

January 2019
Other
Federal

Asked

Elements of defamation - Newspaper articles

I act for a small local charity. An anonymous petition has circulated around the community asking questions about how the charity uses its assets and spends charitable proceeds. Some of the comments are defamatory.

The charity believes the petition was circulated by a disgruntled former employee.

The local paper has been given a copy of the petition and intends to publish a story about it. We do not know the content of the story. The reporter has asked two specific questions about the use of one property and the expenditure of funds. The charity proposes to give clear answers to the two questions raised and to outline all the good charitable works undertaken in the local community in the hope the allegations in the petition will be shown to be untrue.

I am not certain whether the paper can be prevented from publishing defamatory comments - especially given we do not know the proposed content of the story.

I believe the action the charity could take is:

  1. Reminding the paper of their obligation not to publish defamatory comments (which may only serve to provoke said reporter) and/or
  2. Seek an injunction, which would be very expensive and may have limited prospects of success given the petition has already been circulated widely in the community.

Can the paper be issued with a letter putting them on notice not to publish any defamatory material? Is there any point to writing a letter given the paper should be well aware of their legal obligations in respect of defamation?

Answered

Thank you for the question.

Mentor agrees that an injunction is of little utility.

The client should be made aware of the sensitive nature of defamation proceedings involving media.

If the client wishes to write to the newspaper and put them on notice that should the newspaper defame the charity, relief will be sought, then proceed. These types of letters can, and often do, dissuade publishers from proceeding with publishing an article.

Such a letter should:

  • Outline the defamatory imputations contained in the petition;
  • Raise the client’s concern that the newspaper may publish those defamatory imputations, which will leave the newspaper open to a defamation claim;
  • Seek assurances that no defamatory imputations will be published in regard to the client; and
  • Be collegiate in nature.

It may also be wise to ask the newspaper to provide the article prior to publication for review. The client may be successful in this request if the newspaper can be shown that it may be benefitted. For example, it may assist the newspaper to avoid defamatory imputations, or the client may provide further comment if the article is sighted prior to publication.

For more information refer to the By Lawyers Defamation & Protecting Reputation publication.

Regards

Mentor

Other
Federal