Defamation: civil law suits and big names

This blog post was written as part of a university project.

Defamation can be defined as the communication of a false and publicised statement which harms an individual or organisation’s reputation, making them an object of ridicule or making others believe that they are unable to do their job correctly. Statements of a defamatory nature, once published in ‘permanent form’, are considered libellous, as opposed to slanderous which covers vocal statements allowing negative opinions to be formed.

If an individual decides to go to court, evidence should consist of proof that a defamatory statement has been published, that it directly identifies and attacks them, and that the statement has caused serious harm to their reputation and/or financial loss; evidence brought before the court depends on each case.

While repeating libellous statements is classed as defamatory, the media does not hold responsibility for comments on their sites and forums, meaning that audience speculation is not considered in legal proceedings. There are also defence loopholes that can be applied when journalists write opinion pieces, however many obstacles exist for journalists, meaning they have to tread carefully. For example, journalists and publications can be sued for innuendos, as well as hinting at who stories are about without explicitly identifying them. Misleading juxtapositions can lead to defamation, as can headlines and captions that are inappropriate or incorrect.

Many celebrities have tried, succeeded and failed in suing both individuals and organisations for defamation. Here are some of libel’s winners and losers:


Image screenshotted from The Guardian website –

  1. JK Rowling 

The author sued Daily Mail after they published a story that stated she lied to churchgoers who “cared for her” leaving them “upset and bewildered.” Her lawyers said the misrepresentation had caused her distress and damaged her reputation. She was successful.


  1. Kate Winslet

Daily Mail strike again – the actress accepted £25,000 and an apology from the publication after they accused her of lying about her exercise regime, which caused offence and upset on her part.


  1. David Beckham

Famous footballer David Beckham’s £25mn case against In Touch was lost. The magazine published claims that Beckham had had an affair, and the judge ruled that as a public figure, his infidelity would be of interest to the public.

4. Evil Knievel

After ESPN published the caption “you’re never too old to be a pimp” alongside a photograph of the daredevil, he attempted to sue them. The case was dismissed due the judge ruling that the caption was “intended as a compliment.”

Regardless of the status of an individual, laws surrounding defamation and libel are very specific and there is a fine line between what journalists can and can’t publish, despite any temptations they may have.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s