From Rebel Wilson to Joe Hockey and Geoffrey Rush, the past few years have been dotted with high profile Australians making claims for damages to their reputation. But you don’t have to insult someone famous to find yourself on the receiving end of a defamation lawsuit – so what does the law say?
Defamatory material can be words (written or spoken), an image or a gesture. Yes even a gesture can be defamatory. The material must:
It is not simply what is, for example, written or spoken that counts. It is what meanings are conveyed by the words.
In determining the meaning of a publication, a court will consider how the publication would be understood by the hypothetical ‘ordinary, fair-minded reader’. The ordinary, fair-minded reader is not avid for scandal, but is susceptible to a degree of loose-thinking and is capable of reading between the lines.
For example, a high-profile sportsman had blurred-out nude photos of him in the shower taken without consent published in a prominent Australian publication in 1991. The sportsman successfully sued the publication for defamation, arguing that among other things the meaning conveyed that he was happy to expose himself to the public. This was particularly damaging as like many successful players do, the sportsman had secured an additional ambassadorial role as a rugby league junior promotions officer that would see him working alongside young kids. He argued that the publishing of such photos was likely to cause him significant financial loss and harmed his reputation, and he was originally awarded $350,000 in compensation.
You may be engaging in defamation and not realise it. Have you ever:
Revenge porn, cartoons and even satire can all be defamatory.
The most common defence to defamation is truth. You can defend an allegation that you defamed someone if you can prove the meanings conveyed are substantially true.
Other defences include:
The Court can order that you pay monetary compensation (damages) to the person who has been defamed. The amount of the damages will depend on the loss suffered by the defamed person. In a recent high profile case, the amount of damages awarded to four members of the Wagner family was $3.75 million.
The Court can also ask you to:
You can take steps such as avoiding identifying the person in your communication and being careful when commenting on matters to do with ethics/honesty, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age and sexual orientation. Once informed that something you have said may be defamatory, take immediate action, including possibly removing, correcting or clarifying the comment.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Australian Capital Territory. If you need a lawyer in Canberra or elsewhere in Australian Capital Territory, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.