Wounding statements that can have a devastating impact on your professional and personal life take moments to type but can spread like wildfire on the internet. As a High Court case concerning two sports journalists showed, however, lawyers can move fast to ensure your reputation is vindicated.
A journalist took legal action after a number of posts appeared on social media. They were the work of a rival sports writer. They clearly referred to him and, amongst other things, accused him of being a shameless liar and cheat who had breached the ethical standards of professional journalism.
The Court found that statements made in the posts were of fact, rather than opinion, and were without doubt defamatory. None of them were true in that there was no evidence that he had acted in a dishonest, unethical, corrupt or fraudulent manner.
The posts caused serious harm to his reputation, both as a part-time journalist and in his primary role as a church pastor. They had spread very quickly over the internet and the church had received numerous complaints. He had been dismissed from freelance journalism roles, resulting in substantial loss of income.
He was awarded £44,000 in general damages – including £4,000 in aggravated damages – together with £30,850 to reflect his financial losses. The Court noted that the award was to compensate him for the damage caused to his reputation and the distress, hurt and humiliation he suffered. It also served to vindicate his good name in the eyes of all those to whom the libels were published.