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Digest of the Week — Defamatory Articles, But Newspaper Not "Publisher" of Comments


Weaver v. Corcoran |
2015 CarswellBC 247 |
British Columbia Supreme Court

Information technology | Internet publishing | Miscellaneous


Plaintiff was scientific researcher who did work related to climate change — Defendants were journalists with defendant newspaper who wrote articles critical of researcher's work — Researcher claimed that articles were defamatory against him — Researcher pointed to inferences that he was attempting to cover up unfavourable data, and that he was fabricating stories about break-ins in his offices — Researcher also noted that he was portrayed as separating from climate-change group when this was not the case — Journalists claimed that articles did not defame researcher's character — Journalists claimed no responsibility for reader comments made on online versions of stories, which researcher claimed were also defamatory — Journalists put forth defence of fair comment — Researcher brought action for defamation — Action allowed — Newspaper had published factually incorrect articles concerning researcher's work previously, for which it had issued corrections — Newspaper continued to make similar claims, despite researcher's efforts to put forth actual views so he was not misrepresented — Publication of incorrect information led directly to defamatory comments by readers of website — Articles were defamatory as they damaged reputation of researcher in larger community — There was thread of researcher being linked with deception through different articles, which led to conclusion that articles were defamatory — Articles questioned researcher's competence and ethics, without necessary grounding in fact — As journalists worked for same newspaper and collaborated on stories, there was necessary element of publication — There was no evidence that researcher was distancing himself from climate-change group, as set out by multiple articles — Journalists could not rely on fair comment defence — Journalists were careless in reporting, but their conduct did not show intent to harm researcher — Malice could not be found on facts — Newspaper did all they reasonably could within one-to-two day timeframe, to remove offensive reader comments which were against their terms of service — Newspaper could not be considered publisher of reader comments — Damages were to be significant, as researcher had suffered damage to reputation that was unnecessary — Researcher was personally affected negatively by these publications — Researcher was awarded $50,000 in general damages — Newspaper was to publish complete retraction both in print and online.
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