What is defamation and what constitues defamatory conduct

Defamation can be defined as the wrongful and intentional publication of a defamatory statement concerning a person (plaintiff). The plaintiff need only establish that the conduct of another was in the form of a publication which is harmful to the plaintiff’s reputation. Once this has been proven by the plaintiff the other elements of liability are presumed to exist, meaning that the publication was both wrongful and intentional.
If the plaintiff is able to establish that the person doing the wrong (defendant) has published a defamatory statement, the plaintiff will be able to claim damages, unless the defendant can prove that one or more required elements cease to exist. A defamatory matter must contain a publication which is most likely to damage one’s “good name” or reputation.

Publication can be explained as the making known of a defamatory statement to at least one person, other than the person being defamed. The publication of defamation can be done in one of two ways, namely through a positive conduct (through speech, on the internet, in the print, on photographs or even on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook) or through an omission (where a defendant omits certain information, or if certain defamatory information is omitted from being removed from a document and a third party gets insight to that information).

A person cannot can institute an action as a result of a defamatory statement unless this statement applies to that person personally. It is not necessary for the specific person’s name to be mention, it will be sufficient if the plaintiff can prove that he/she can be identified by a third party through inference.

Once a defamatory statement has been established the law presumes that the plaintiff has suffered an injury to his/her reputation and is entitled to compensation for that injury. The quantum of damages is determined at the discretion of the court and each case is considered on the individual circumstances.

The court summarised the general factors which are to be taken into account in the Muller v SA Associated Newspapers Ltd as being:

The character and status of the plaintiff;
The nature of the words used;
The effect that they are calculated to have upon him;
The extent of the publication;
The subsequent conduct of the defendant and, in particular,
His attempts and the effectiveness thereof, to rectify the harm done.
If you feel that you have been a victim of defamation and that damage has been done to your reputation, integrity and good name, feel free to contact us so that we may discuss your options with you and obtain the relief that you require and deserve.