THE DEFENSE FOR DEFAMATION
It will be very important for you to understand what defamation is all about before we talk about the topic for discussion which is the defense for defamation.
What is defamation: Defamation is concerned with injury to reputation resulting from words written or spoken by others. This will lead us to know what a defamatory statement is. A defamatory statement may be defined as one which tends to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally, or
- To introduce him to hatred, contempt or out laugh (ridicule); or
- To cause another person to shun him; or
- To discredit him in his office, trade or profession; or
- To injury his financial credit.
All these are forms or ways by which reputation can be defamed. Before we go to the defenses, you should note that to write or say of a man something that will disparage him in the eyes of a particular section of the community but will not affect his reputation in the eyes of the average right-thinking man is not actionable within the law of defamation.
Still on the topic, defense for defamation
Going further, there are things that the plaintiff must prove before a defamation action can be established. We will go through them one after the other in the course of this article.
- That the words were defamatory: It is for the judge to decide whether the words complained of are reasonably capable of being defamatory and the approach to be considered was outlined by Adefarasin J. in the case of Omo-Osagie v Okonkwo  2 All N.L.R. 175 at p. 179. And he said this:
“The judge… has to consider what is the natural and ordinary meaning in which the words would be understood by reasonable men to whom they were published.”
- Words must refer to the plaintiff: This means that the said defamatory words complained of must be shown to refer to the plaintiff. The requirement was explained by Fatayi Williams J.S.C. in Dalumo v The Sketch Publishing Co. Ltd  1 All N.L.R. 130.
“It is an essential element of the cause of action for defamation that the words complained of should be published of the plaintiff… it is not necessary that the words should refer to the plaintiff by name.”
Remember, we are still taking about the defense for defamation.
- Words must be published: The plaintiff must prove that the words of which he complains of were published by the said defendant. That is communicated to the defendant to at least one person other than himself.
Let us now look at the defense for defamation which anyone can rely on when being brought against an action for defamation in the court of law. This defense:
- Justification: It is a complete defense to an action for libel and slander that the words complained of were true in substance. Note: Libel can be defined as a written or published defamatory statement, while slander is defamation that is spoken by the defendant (verbal use of words).
- Fair comment: It is a defense to an action of libel or slander that the statement complained of was a fair comment on a matter of public interest. NB: Fair comment is defined as a common law defense that guarantees the freedom of the press to express statements on matters of public interest, as long as the statements are not made with ill will, spite, or with the intent to harm the plaintiff.
- Absolute Privilege: it arises in those circumstances, such as proceedings in the legislature or in a court of law, where public policy demands that persons should be able to speak or write with absolute freedom, without fear of liability for defamation.
In conclusion, these are some of the defenses for defamation one can use or rely on when an action for defamation is being brought against him/her. In our next article, we will look into libel and slander in full details.