Case Summary: Ahmed v Harbour Radio Pty Ltd (No 2)

 
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Case Summary: Ahmed v Harbour Radio Pty Ltd

 

[x] = case paragraph number

 

Citation

 

Ahmed v Harbour Radio Pty Ltd (No 2) [2011] NSWSC 20

 

Facts

 

Matter:

 

This case combines three seperate events which occurred on Radio 2GB (owned by Harbour Radio Pty Ltd). The key issue in this case is the use of the slang or colloquial word, "grub". 

Broadcast 1:

The radio presenter Mr. Ray Hadley:

...outlined what he called "a disturbing story" about the owner of a named seafood shop who, he said, had been convicted of the aggravated indecent assault of a young female employee. He then had a conversation with a caller, who he identified as the father of the victim of the offence. During the course of this conversation a great deal was said that was highly critical of the owner of the seafood shop, who is the husband of the plaintiff. Reference was also made to the plaintiff. Mr Hadley asserted that she had sought, against the father of the victim, an Apprehended Violence Order. Mr Hadley repeatedly referred to the plaintiff's husband as "a grub". At one point he also referred to "his grub of a wife". [4]

Broadcast 2 and 3:

Mr. Hadley read on-air the transcript of the judgment from the pervious case between him and Kim Ahmed. He blended his own interpretation of the judgment and the judgment itself:

"In the conversation Mr Hadley called Mr Ahmed, 'A lowlife, a deviant, a dirty low bastard, this dirty filthy old bloke, this grubby 44-year-old, this grub'. Mr Hadley also made mention of the application [sic - applicant], who, according to the caller, had obtained an AVO against the caller. Mr Hadley called the applicant, 'His grub of a wife'."
...
"I did all of that." [11]

Mr. Hadley then commented:

"This woman, Kim Ann (sic) Ahmed, married to this horrible beast, tried to sue me for defamation and she may well continue ... She's married to a lowlife grub who tried to perform a sexual act on a 17- year-old employee and was convicted of indecent assault and then she tried to line me up in the Federal Court for defamation.

I'll tell who's been defamed in this, the little girl involved with your grub of a husband and her family. That's who's been defamed, you silly silly woman. You've got your just desserts ..." [14]

 

Imputations:

 

Broadcast 1:

"3(a) The Plaintiff is a grub because she remains in business with her husband, a convicted sexual offender." [7]

Broadcast 2 and 3:

"3B (and 3D)
(a) The Plaintiff is a grub because she is married to a convicted sexual offender;
(b) The Plaintiff is unfit to run the business of Seafood Lovers;
(c) The Plaintiff is a silly woman;
(d) The Plaintiff should be driven out of business because of her association with a convicted sexual offender;
(e) The Plaintiff is a grub because she obtained an AVO against a caller to Mr Hadley." [15]

 

Issue

 

The issue was the problem with pleading imputations which contain colloquial or slang word, "grub". At [22]:

The question which arises is whether, in using the word "grub" in the imputations, the plaintiff has discharged the obligation to specify the defamatory meaning which she claims was conveyed.

 

Ratio Decidendi

 

The following is my compilation of principles and the case extracts which form the principle. 

 

Principle: The imputation must be clear, precise and unambiguous. 

At [23]:

There is no doubt in my mind that the word "grub" was intended to, and did in fact, convey a defamatory slur of the plaintiff. There is no non- defamatory meaning that could be attributed to the expression. But that does not mean that its meaning is clear or unambiguous. It does not mean that the imputation pleaded on behalf of the plaintiff is "clear and precise".

 

Principle: When pleading imputations, the imputation must not contain slang or colloquial words. Instead, the colloquialism should be translated into plain language. 

At [25] and [26]:

[25] It is sometimes the case that, by reason of lack of specificity in what is published by a defendant, a plaintiff is hampered in attributing a more precise meaning to the language used by the defendant than that language itself conveys. It is, after all, the language of the defendant: see, for example, Hepburn v TCN Channel Nine Pty Ltd [1983] 2 NSWLR 682. However, the obligation remains upon a plaintiff to identify the defamatory meaning. It is quite possible that the language used by a publisher is so vague or unspecific as to leave open a range of meanings. In such a case, it is insufficient for a plaintiff to adopt, in the imputation, the language used by the defendant, and leave the question of its meaning to the jury, see Singleton v Ffrench (1986) 5 NSWLR 425. It is, of course, possible for a plaintiff to provide alternative translations of the defendant's language; but provide at least one translation a plaintiff must.


[26] This is not to impose too onerous a burden upon a plaintiff. The plaintiff brings proceedings in defamation because he or she asserts that whatever was published by the defendant conveyed a meaning defamatory of him or her. He or she must therefore be able to attribute some meaning to that language. It is articulation of that meaning - ie the meaning (or alternative meanings) for which the plaintiff contends - that is required by UCPR 14.30(2).

 

Orders

 

"(i) Imputations 3(a), 3B(a) and 3B(e), and 3D(a) and 3D(e) are struck out;

(ii) The plaintiff have liberty to re-plead;" [29]

 

Notes

 

This case also provides a useful discussion on the problems of pleading imputations which contain slang or colloquialisms. 

 

In the book Defamation Law by David Rolph, Rolph suggests that the true innuendo may need to be pleaded when the matter contains slang or colloquialisms. See section 6.120/page 102. 

 

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[Image: Ray Hadley]

 

 
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