We’ve all read articles, seen news items, or laughed at cartoons that portray someone in a negative light. Sometimes the item is light-hearted and fun, while other times the article is unsympathetic, callous and could seriously damage a person’s reputation.
To most people, how they are perceived by others is extremely important, be it for personal, social or commercial reasons. Defamation law exists to protect people from the harm that can be caused by free speech, and the damage that can be done when untrue or unwarranted remarks are made about them in public.
In Queensland, the law of defamation is formed in part by the Defamation Act 2005, but is largely governed by the common law that has been developed over time by judges in court decisions. The common law does not have one precise definition of defamation that can be applied to all situations, but at a basic level, it suggests that a defamatory statement is one that lowers a person in the estimation of the ordinary members of our society.
Very simply, defamation is a communication by an individual that is published to at least one other person, identifies the victim and is defamatory.
Common law suggests that a defamatory statement must be published to a third person other than the person being defamed, and can be done so by:
- spoken words or audible sound
- words intended to be read by sight or touch
- signs, signals, gestures, or visible representations.
In order for someone to have been defamed, it is essential that the defamatory statement identifies them.This does not mean that the person being defamed must be personally named. Typically all that is required, is that the details published have lead a reader to be able to identify the person who is the subject of the defamatory statement.