What action can be taken against a journalist who writes a damaging but true story about a public figure?

Question Details: A person who is running for public office goes out and drinks heavily. They don't do anything illegal, but if a journalist was to write a story about the night's events, it could be damaging. If the journalist has all their facts right, is there anything that the person can do to prevent the story being published?

Filed under Defamation | 2240 View(s)

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Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley

If a story is true, usually it can be published without legal repercussions.

Because the night of heavy drinking was presumably in a public place, the drinker cannot be said to have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Similarly, if the facts in any published story are true, or are portrayed as being a person's honest opinion based on what they saw, there is likely to be a defence against a defamation claim. Without knowing more specific information, it seems unlikely that the courts would stop the story from being published.

An option for the person who is concerned that a story might damage their reputation is to seek an injunction from the courts. An injunction is a court order that stops another person from doing something: in this case, from publishing an article about the events of the night of heavy drinking.

Be aware though that the courts set a high standard for granting an injunction in these sorts of cases: you will have seen stories in the media recently featuring high profile people and their private activities. And a court case can just bring more attention to the story.

If the story is published and the person concerned can prove that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, or that the facts of the story are untrue and are also not honest opinion, the person could seek compensation ("damages"). Again, the threshold for damages is quite high.

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