After nearly a decade of dealing with African Celebrities, I’ve come to realize that despite the strict legal requirements that must be satisfied to establish defamation (both libel and slander), our African Celebrities just throw into the air ‘Defamation’ when they’ve not been defamed and have no case—legally.
From my experience, it is obvious that our Celebrities think publications which are not favourable to them, expose them, undermine their status or attack their actions/personality fit the box of defamation, even if the writer is merely expression an opinion or honestly believed his publication to be true.
In the ordinary world, it’s easy to establish defamation compared to when the subject concerned is a celebrity (public figure). Therefore, what may be defamation when slapped on the face of the ordinary man next door may not be defamation when said about a celebrity…
What is defamation at all?
According to the English case of Sim v Stretch, defamation is a false statement of fact that exposes a person to hatred, ridicule, contempt or which tends to lower him in the esteem of right thinking persons of society.
Based on the above, statements that are merely offensive, such as, Nadia Buari smells badly will not be sufficient to be termed as defamatory.
Similarly, opinions can never be defamatory and therefore if someone says, Kwabena Kwabena is the most useless Ghanaian musician—-that can never be defamatory in law…This will be just as saying; President Obama is the worst president America has ever had—-opinion.
It must be noted that, merely labeling a statement as an opinion does not mean it will be considered as an opinion. Courts look at the whole statement to establish if a reasonable reader/listener will consider the statement to be an opinion or a statement of fact. Since opinions cannot be established to be true or false, defamation cannot spring out of that—after all, defamation rides on the concept of a false statement of fact.
It is worth mentioning that, statements like a person is a “Dumb Ass,” even first among “Dumb Asses,” communicates no factual proposition susceptible of proof or refutation. It is true that “dumb” by itself can convey the relatively concrete meaning “lacking in intelligence.” Nevertheless, the absence of the ability to proof any factual preposition in this phrase will definitely make it a herculean task when a person wants to proof defamation based on it.
When it comes to defamation, Courts take into account a whole publication to establish if a person has been defamed or not. This means that, headlines alone cannot fully be relied on for defamation. It can be the starting point, but the context of the entire article or publication must be considered.
Defamation in relation to celebrities/public figures
As mentioned above, statements that will pass for defamation if said about ordinary people may not necessary be accepted by Courts as defamatory when said to celebrities/public figures.
When it comes to defamation in relation to ordinary members of the society, the person making the defamatory claim must prove that;
- There has been a publication.
- The publication is a false statement of fact (not an opinion)
- And the statement harms the reputation of the person making the claim.
However, when it comes to public figures or celebrities, a 4th and difficult hurdle must be jumped. The celebrity/public figure must prove ACTUAL MALICE in addition to the above.
By ACTUAL MALICE, the celebrity/public figure must show that, the person who made the publication knew of the falsity of the publication at the time of the publication, or he recklessly disregarded the truth.
Unlike ordinary citizens where the person claiming defamation will only need to show that the publisher acted negligently, meaning, a “reasonable person” would not have published the defamatory statement—-celebrities must show ACTUAL MALICE.
Defamation Per Se
Though public figures must show ACTUAL MALICE when it comes to defamatory claims, there are certain false statements of fact which are innately harmful, therefore, when published about public figures (or ordinary citizens), the publisher becomes ‘automatically’ liable for defamation.
These statements include;
Publications or imputations “injurious to another in their trade, business, or profession”
Publications or imputations “of loathsome disease” such as leprosy and sexually transmitted disease.
Publications or imputations of “unchastity” (usually only in unmarried people and sometimes only in women)
Publications or imputations of criminal activity (sometimes only crimes of moral turpitude will pass)
The importance of context cannot be forgotten when it even comes to defamation per se. If you publish a statement that Jackie Appiah talks like an ” ignorant slut,” it may imply a want of chastity on Jackie Appiah’s part. But contextually, you may be able to convince a Court that the above statement is not defamation per se, rather, it falls within the usual hyperbole and pop cultural slang, and not a false statement of fact.
Certain people are considered as “libel-proof”, meaning the person’s reputation is so tarnished that it couldn’t be brought any lower, even by a publication of false statements of fact. Though I am not sure on this example, I think when it comes to skin bleaching; Yvonne Nelson will be considered as libel proof to those sorts of publications.
In law, a dead person cannot be defamed so every person has the right to say whatever they want about the dead…After all, he is dead and he has no reputation to protect. However, a publication on wrongdoing of a dead person that reflects badly on friends or associates who are still alive may defame them.
Can Blogs Defame People?
Every publisher including people writing status messages on facebook can be sued for defamation.
In law, blogs have the same protection as newspapers and other traditional media. It is understood that, in the context of defamation law, the rights of the institutional media are no greater and no less than those enjoyed by other individuals and organizations engaged in the same activities and this
When it comes to blogs and defamation, the nature of blogs being opinion platforms suggest that, Courts will look at the general tenor, setting, and format of the blog, as well as the style of the particular article in contention. Here, Courts would consider the specific context and content of the blog entry, examine the extent of hyperbolic language used and the reasonable expectations of the blog’s audience.
Though blogs enjoy the same constitutional protection as the institutional media, the expectations of the audience of these two platforms may be different. So a blog can escape defamation when something is said (under opinion) but institutional media may find it difficult to find an escape route.
There are several defences to the tort of defamation, and these are those commonly raised-Consent, Honest Comment, Privilege, Statements made in a good faith and reasonable belief that they were true, Statue of Limitation, Opinion and Innocent dissemination…
Can Blog Commenters Be Liable For Defamation
If you comment on a blog or forum, you are classified as a publisher under law and you can therefore be liable for defamation. Through your computer IP address, you can easily be fetched out of your hiding hole and be held accountable for a false statement of fact you made through a comment…
Law & Celebrity is a column on GhanaCelebrities.Com which focuses on how the law affects our celebrities, their lifestyles, new media, entertainment, etc.
Chris-Vincent Agyapong Febiri, who will be looking at these issues is a postgraduate International Human Rights student, holds a degree in Law (LLB), Diploma in Para Legal and also has extensive knowledge and interest in celebrity lifestyle & social media.