There is no one test for determining whether something is defamatory. The courts often ask whether in the view of reasonable members of the community either seeing, hearing or reading the matter will likely:
- lead to a lowering of the relevant person’s reputation
- lead others to think less of them
- make others shun or avoid them
- cause others to ridicule, hate or despise them.
Depending upon the context in which a matter is communicated, it may be possible to accidentally defame another person. Even if a person is not named or if the work is a piece of fiction or sarcasm, a cause of action for defamation may arise if the matter can reasonably be inferred to be about a specific person.
The person communicating the matter does not need to intend that any harm be done to another person. The court looks at what was actually communicated and how a reasonable member of the community would interpret the meaning of that communication.
There are other tests applied by the courts, and if you are considering making a claim we recommend you seek specific legal advice.