Case Summary: Mirror Newspapers Ltd v World Hosts Pty Ltd (1979)

Case Summary: Mirror Newspapers Ltd v World Hosts Pty Ltd

 

Key: [x] = paragraph number

 

Citations

 

Mirror Newspapers Ltd v World Hosts Pty Ltd [1979] HCA 3; (1979) 141 CLR 632; (1979) 23 ALR 167; (1979) 53 ALJR 243

 

Facts

 

Matter:

 

'The Australian' newspaper published an article with the heading, ‘CARPICE OWNER DECLARED BANKRUPT BY COURT’. However, the Newspaper made an error. The restaurant owner did not go bankrupt, instead, the restaurant manager went bankrupt. While the article specified that it was the manager who went bankrupt, a person who only read the heading may think that it was the owner.

 

Imputation:

 

The owner of Caprice Restaurant was financially unsound or insolvent. 

 

Issues

 

  • '...whether the publication, read as a whole, is capable of sustaining the imputation concerning the plaintiff...' [10]

  • Whether the matter has the capacity to convey the defamatory imputation in its natural and ordinary meaning. [18]

 

Ratio Decidendi

 

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

Principle: Imputations in the 'natural and ordinary meaning' includes conclusions and inference which the ordinary person will make. 

At [14] per Mason and Jacobs JJ With Gibbs J and Stephen J in agreement:

...in the law of defamation the expression "natural and ordinary meaning" has a special and somewhat larger content than it has in the sphere of legal interpretation. It includes inferences and conclusions which the ordinary man draws from the words used; it includes what was described by Lord Reid in Morgan v. Odhams Press Ltd. (1971) 1 WLR 1239, at p 1245; (1971) 2 All ER 1156, at p 1163 as "a certain amount of loose thinking" for, as his Lordship then said: "The ordinary reader does not formulate reasons in his own mind: he gets a general impression and one can expect him to look again before coming to a conclusion and acting on it. But formulated reasons are very often an afterthought."

Principle: For an imputation to be a true innuendo, the imputation must have a secondary meaning additional to, or different from, the natural and ordinary meaning.

At [15] per Mason and Jacobs JJ With Gibbs J and Stephen J in agreement:

When read in conjunction with extrinsic facts, words may, in the law of defamation, have some special or secondary meaning additional to, or different from, their natural and ordinary meaning.

Principle: For an imputation to be a true innuendo, in the absence of extrinsic facts, the matter itself cannot convey the imputation. Thus, to understand the imputation, extrinsic facts are needed.

At [15] per Mason and Jacobs JJ With Gibbs J and Stephen J in agreement:

This special or secondary meaning is not one which the words, viewed in isolation, are capable of sustaining. It is one which a reader acquainted with the extrinsic facts will ascribe to the matter complained of by reason of his knowledge of those facts because he will understand the words in the light of those facts. So, as Lord Devlin said in Lewis v. Daily Telegraph Ltd. (1964) AC, at p 278 , "to say of a man that he was seen to enter a named house would contain a derogatory implication for anyone who knew that the house was a brothel but not for anyone who did not".

Principle: If pleading a true innuendo, the statement of claim must specify that the imputation is a true innuendo. 

At [16] per Mason and Jacobs JJ With Gibbs J and Stephen J in agreement:

If the meaning which the plaintiff sought to ascribe to the report was a natural and ordinary meaning, then the plaintiff had no need to plead an innuendo or to plead and prove extrinsic facts. If, however, the meaning was a special and secondary meaning, the statement of claim should have pleaded the innuendo and the extrinsic facts upon which it depended, it being conceded that at the trial all necessary facts were established by admission or proof.

Principle: If pleading a true innuendo, the statement of claim must specify the extrinsic facts relied upon. 

At [16] per Mason and Jacobs JJ With Gibbs J and Stephen J in agreement:

If the meaning which the plaintiff sought to ascribe to the report was a natural and ordinary meaning, then the plaintiff had no need to plead an innuendo or to plead and prove extrinsic facts. If, however, the meaning was a special and secondary meaning, the statement of claim should have pleaded the innuendo and the extrinsic facts upon which it depended, it being conceded that at the trial all necessary facts were established by admission or proof.

 

***

 

[Image: The Caprice Restaurant on Rose Bay, 1956]

 

 
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