Bonnick v Morris, The Gleaner Company Ltd and Allen: PC 17 Jun 2002

(Jamaica) The appellant sought damages from the respondent journalists in defamation. They had claimed qualified privilege. The words alleged to be defamatory were ambiguous.
Held: The publishers were protected by Reynolds privilege. The court should give the article the natural and ordinary meaning which would be attributed by an intelligent reader seeing it once. He could read between the lines but may not be unduly suspicious.
An appellate court should not disturb the judge’s finding without real justification. That did not apply here.
As to privilege, qualified privilege need not be lost because of unanticipated ambiguity. The defamatory imputation was a matter of implication, about which different views could apply. Responsible journalism was the point at which a fair balance was held between freedom of expression on matters of public concern and the reputations of individuals. Nevertheless ambiguity can be a screen behind which a journalist could be ‘willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike’. It is a matter for the words in each case. In this case the ambiguity was not so patent. There was, or perhaps should be, a deterrent element in the amount of damages in defamation cases.
Lord Nicholls discussed the single meaning rule in defamation: ‘The ‘single meaning’ rule adopted in the law of defamation is in one sense highly artificial, given the range of meanings the impugned words sometimes bear: see the familiar exposition by Diplock LJ in Slim v Daily Telegraph Ltd [1968] 2 QB 157, 171-172. The law attributes to the words only one meaning, although different readers are likely to read the words in different senses. In that respect the rule is artificial. Nevertheless, given the ambiguity of language, the rule does represent a fair and workable method for deciding whether the words under consideration should be treated as defamatory. To determine liability by reference to the meaning an ordinary reasonable reader would give the words is unexceptionable.’
For the purposes of determining whether, in the context of a defamation action, a journalist had acted responsibly, it was permissible to take account of the meaning which a journalist thought an article had even though that is different from the meaning which the article had to the ordinary reasonable reader. ‘A journalist should not be penalised for making a wrong decision on a question of meaning on which different people might reasonably take different views.’ In that case ‘the defamatory meaning of the words used was not so glaringly obvious that any responsible journalist would be bound to realise this was how the words would be understood by ordinary, reasonable readers.’
Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Scott of Foscote and Mr Justice Tipping
[2002] UKPC 31, [2003] 1 AC 300, [2002] 3 WLR 820, 12 BHRC 558, [2002] EMLR 37, [2002] 2 Lloyds Rep 403, (2002) 12 BHRC 558, [2002] All ER (D) 92, (2003) 4 CHRLD 35
Bailii, PC
CitedSkuse v Granada Television CA 30-Mar-1993
The claimant complained that the defendant had said in a television programme that he had failed to act properly when presenting his expert forensic evidence in court in the trial of the Birmingham Six.
Held: The court should give to the . .
CitedReynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd and others HL 28-Oct-1999
Fair Coment on Political Activities
The defendant newspaper had published articles wrongly accusing the claimant, the former Prime Minister of Ireland of duplicity. The paper now appealed, saying that it should have had available to it a defence of qualified privilege because of the . .
CitedSlim v Daily Telegraph Ltd CA 1968
Courts to Settle upon a single meaning if disputed
The ‘single meaning’ rule adopted in the law of defamation is in one sense highly artificial, given the range of meanings the impugned words sometimes bear. The law of defamation ‘has passed beyond redemption by the courts’. Where in a libel action . .

Cited by:
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CitedNail and Another v News Group Newspapers Ltd and others CA 20-Dec-2004
The claimant appealed the award of damages in his claim for defamation. The defendants had variously issued apologies. The claimant had not complained initially as to one publication.
Held: In defamation proceedings the damage to feelings is . .
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The claimant sought damages for an article published by the defendant, who argued that as a corporation, the claimant corporation needed to show special damage, and also that the publication had qualified privilege.
Held: ‘It is an established . .
CitedArmstrong v Times Newspapers Ltd and David Walsh, Alan English CA 29-Jul-2005
The claimant sought damages after publication by the first defendant of articles which it was claimed implied that he had taken drugs. The paper claimed qualified privilege, and claimed Reynolds immunity.
Held: The defence of qualified . .
CitedLowe v Associated Newspapers Ltd QBD 28-Feb-2006
The defendant sought to defend the claim for defamation by claiming fair comment. The claimant said that the relevant facts were not known to the defendant at the time of the publication.
Held: To claim facts in aid of a defence of fair . .
CitedJameel v Wall Street Journal Europe Sprl HL 11-Oct-2006
The House was asked as to the capacity of a limited company to sue for damage to its reputation, where it had no trading activity within the jurisdiction, and as to the extent of the Reynolds defence. The defendants/appellants had published an . .
CitedRoberts and Another v Gable and others CA 12-Jul-2007
The claimants appealed a finding of qualified privilege in their claim of defamation by the defendant author and magazine which was said to have accused them of theft and threats of violence against other members of the BNP.
Held: The appeal . .
CitedBray v Deutsche Bank Ag QBD 12-Jun-2008
A former emloyee of the defendant bank sued in defamation after the bank published a press release about its results which he said was critical of him.
Held: Where there is a real issue as to whether the words are defamatory of the claimant, . .
CitedMosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd QBD 24-Jul-2008
The defendant published a film showing the claimant involved in sex acts with prostitutes. It characterised them as ‘Nazi’ style. He was the son of a fascist leader, and a chairman of an international sporting body. He denied any nazi element, and . .
CitedAjinomoto Sweeteners Europe Sas v Asda Stores Ltd QBD 15-Jul-2009
The claimant said that the defendant’s characterisation of its own products as ‘Good for You’ by reference to a description saying that it did not include the claimant’s product as a component, was a malicious falsehood. The defendant sold other . .
CitedFlood v Times Newspapers Ltd QBD 2-Oct-2009
The defendant had published a story in its newspaper. At that time it attracted Reynolds qualified privilege. After the circumstances changed, the paper offered an updating item. That offer was rejected as inadequate.
Held: The qualified . .
CitedBritish Chiropractic Association v Dr Simon Singh CA 1-Apr-2010
The defendant appealed against a ruling that the words in an article – ‘This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments’ – were statements of fact, and were not comment.
CitedAjinomoto Sweeteners Europe Sas v Asda Stores Ltd CA 2-Jun-2010
The claimant sold a sweetener ingredient. The defendant shop advertised its own health foods range with the label ‘no hidden nasties’ and in a situation which, the claimant said, suggested that its ingredient was a ‘nasty’, and it claimed under . .
CitedFlood v Times Newspapers Ltd CA 13-Jul-2010
The claimant police officer complained of an article he said was defamatory in saying he was being investigated for allegations of accepting bribes. The article remained on the internet even after he was cleared. Each party appealed interim orders. . .
CitedWatkins v Woolas QBD 5-Nov-2010
The petitioner said that in the course of the election campaign, the respondent Labour candidate had used illegal practices in the form of deliberately misleading and racially inflammatory material.
Held: The claim succeeded, and the election . .
CitedBaturina v Times Newspapers Ltd CA 23-Mar-2011
The claimant appealed against directions given in her defamation action against the defendant. It had been said that she owned a house, and the defendant said that this was not defamatory. The claimant said that as the wife of the Mayor of Moscow . .
CitedFlood v Times Newspapers Ltd SC 21-Mar-2012
The defendant had published an article which was defamatory of the claimant police officer, saying that he was under investigation for alleged corruption. The inquiry later cleared him. The court was now asked whether the paper had Reynolds type . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 08 January 2021; Ref: scu.174490