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Defamatory Meaning (Defamation) Notes

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Defamatory Meaning - Innuendo Defamation Bill 2006 s.2 'defamatory statement' means a statement that tends to injure a persons reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society, and 'defamatory' shall be construed accordingly

Charleston v Newsgroup Newspapers (HoL 1995) Facts

1. The plaintiffs were pictured on the front of one of the defendants' newspapers having sex alongside the headline "Porn Shocker for Neighbours Stars"

2. The corresponding article made it clear that the faces of the actors were superimposed on the pictures and described them as victims. IssueBane and Antidote Rule


1. Lord Goff of Chieveley (concurred with Lord Bridge)

2. Lord Bridge of Harwich (concurring)
? The bane and antidote rule requires that the natural and ordinary meaning of the statement be ascertained with reference to the context in which it is used and the mode of publication.
? Even in this case, where it is likely that a limited group of readers would only have seen the photo and not read the article, the fundamental principle is that the jury must refer themselves to the meaning that would be drawn by the ordinary, reasonable, fair-minded reader - this precludes them from considering that some readers would read different parts of the article and thus come to different conclusions as to what it means.

3. Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle (concurring)

4. Lord Mustill (concurring)

5. Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead (concurring)
? Although common sense would advise that newspapers be held liable in a case like this, that is not the law on the subject.
? The law of defamation judges defamatory meaning by reference to the ordinary reader of the statement - this is justified in light of the fact that readers of mass circulation publications vary widely in how they read and the meanings which they draw.
? It is inconsistent with this standard to carve the readership of one article into different groups.
? However, the layout of the article may be such that the ordinary reader would not find the 'antidote' - the article is on the borderline but it is saved by the fact A) that the ordinary reader would not take the photos at face value and B) need only look as far the additional photographs with the caption 'victim' for the sting to be removed.

McGarth v Independent Newspapers (HC 2004) Facts

1. The plaintiff was a CIE employee and trade union shop steward.

2. He claimed that a photo of him above a newspaper article headed "businessman Pat McGarth stands to lose thousands after investing in eircom" was defamatory and sought an apology from the defendants.

3. The defendants refused to apologise, but printed a retraction stating that the plaintiff had borrowed money to invest in the shares (which was true) next to an article headed "big business linked to family of terrorist IssueDefamatory meaning - Layout

Judgment (Gilligan J)
? The entire layout has to be taken as a whole and the meaning that it would convey to the ordinary, fair-minded and reasonable reader considered - Charleston adopted.
? The article as laid out does not bear the meaning alleged ie that the plaintiff had links to terrorists.

Tolley v Fry & Sons (HoL 1931) Facts

1. The plaintiff was an amateur golfer whose picture was used in an advertising campaign by the defendants.

2. The plaintiff claimed that this implied that he had agreed to give his name to the campaign which was damaging to his reputation as an amateur golfer and could result in his dismissal from a reputable club. IssueInnuendo


1. Viscount Hailsham (concurring)
? It was open to the jury to hold that an ordinary individual would assume that no reputable firm would have the effrontery and bad taste to take the name and reputation of a well known man for an advertisement without permission.

2. Viscount Dunedin (concurring)
? On the face of it the advertisement is innocent, but the circumstances render it libellous.

3. Lord Buckmaster (concurring)

4. Lord Tomlin (concurring)

5. Lord Blanesburgh (concurring)

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