Defamation means the publication of a false statement regarding another person without lawful justification, which tends to lower his reputation in the estimation of right thinking members of the society. It has also been defined as the publication of a statement that tends to injure the reputation of another by exposing him to hatred, contempt ridicule.
# Dixon vs holden(1869) : the right of reputation is recognised as an inherent right of every person, which can be exercised against the entire world. A man’s reputation is therefore considered is property.
Essential elements of defamation
1. False statement: the defendant must have made a false statement. If the statement’s is true, it’s not defamation.
2. Defamatory statement: the statement must be defamatory. A statement is said to be the defamatory when it exposes the plaintiff to hatred, contempt, ridicule or injuries to him in his profession or trade among the people known to him.
3. Statement must refers to the plaintiff: but the plaintiff need not have been specifically named. It is sufficient if right thinking members of the society understand the statement to refer to the plaintiff.
4. Statement must be published: publication of the statement consists in making known of the defamatory matter to someone else (third parties) other than the plaintiff.
Defences against defamation
1. Truth or justification: truth is a complete defence to an action on libel or slander. The defendant must be sure of proving the truth of the statement otherwise more serious and aggravated damage may be awarded against him.
2. Fair comment: fair comment on a matter of public interest is a defence against defamation. The word fair means honestly relevant and free from malice and improper motive.
3. Absolute privilege: certain matters are not actionable at all in defamation. They are absolutely privileged. A matter is set to be privileged when the person who makes the communication has a moral duty to make it, to the person to whom he does make it and the person who received it has been interest in hearing it. They include statements made by the judges are magistrates in the course of judicial proceedings, statements made in Parliament by legislators and communication between spouses etc.
4. Qualified privilege: in this case a person is entitled to communicate a defamatory statement so long as no malice is proved on his part. They include statements made by defendant while defending his reputation, communication made to a person in public position for public good etc.
5. Apology or offer of amends: the defendant is at liberty to offer to make a suitable correction of the offending statement coupled with an apology. Such offers may be relied upon as a defence.
6. Consent: in a case where by the plaintiff impliedly consents to the publication, complaint of such consent is a defence in defamation.
Remedies for defamation
1. Damages: the plaintiff can recover damages for injury to his reputation as well as his feelings.
2. Apology: an apology is another remedy available to the plaintiff. This is because it has the effect of correcting the impression previously made by the offending statement about the plaintiff.
3. Injunction: the court may grant injunction restraining the publication of a libel but the plaintiff must first prove that the defamatory statement is untrue and its publication will cause irreparable damage to him.