The Big Ol’ Defamation: A case of defamation for ‘Pitch Perfect’ star, Rebel Wilson
But, what is defamation? Is it when you’re, like, not famous anymore?
When I started to learn about journalism I didn’t know a lot of things about journalism in relation to defamation and libel. Here are a couple things I didn’t know (before we get into Rebel Wilson’s case):
- I didn’t know the extent that law played a part in journalism, that you can be sued for defamation even when you have taken the up most care that you are not describing an individual in a way that may harm their character.
- I didn’t know that you can sued for using a picture where you have accidentally featured someone’s face/body in the back ground of the picture without their permission.
Now, as for Rebel Wilson as linked above under ‘defamation’, a recent and widely publicised defamation case that went to the Australian courts was won by the actress. Rebel is known for her sense of humour, easily relatable and loveable characters on screen in films, such as ‘Pitch Perfect’.
Rebel Wilson won an estimated £3.7 million in damages after Bauer Media was found to have defamed her in articles they published. These articles accused Rebel Wilson of lying about her age, name and other personal details. This was found to be inaccurate and Rebel’s legal team took action against this as it damaged her reputation and could be viewed as costing her acting roles at the time they were published.
Speaking to Australian television show ‘Sunday Night’, Rebel Wilson is very frank about the damage the articles caused her, labeling what the media outlet did as:
“malicious, and it was ugly.” — Rebel Wilson, Sunday Night, 27th November 2017
However, Rebel Wilson’s battle has not ended yet as Bauer Media are set to dispute the amount of money that was awarded to Rebel. Something that Rebel Wilson is not impressed with as she plans to give the money she was awarded to charity.
This throws up lots of questions for journalists of today, with social media and the internet at the the tips of our fingers journalists are a mere few seconds away from posting something written up in that moment. More care, should be taken by journalists to make sure they always fact check, and take a moment or two to consider if they are potentionally setting themselves up for being sued for defamation.
As shown above, defamation can be a very costly mistake for a journalist. As legal academics McBride and Bagshaw put it, the definition of ‘defamation’ is not about how the defamatory statement makes the person feel, but the impression it is likely to make on those reading it. For Rebel Wilson, she had people calling her:
“a liar and a fake, and for someone like me who’s so candid and authentic, it was just probably the most devastating thing they could have said to me.” — Rebel Wilson, Sunday Night, 27th November 2017
Eventually, when Rebel’s phone stopped ringing and offers for new roles were no longer coming her way she realised she had to take action against Bauer Media. Interesting fact, Rebel Wilson has a law degree from the University of NSW before she made it in Hollywood, and she was fully aware that her only option left was to sue.
The Defamation Act of 2013 has added further to this definition as it states that a statement is not defamatory unless the claiment can prove the publication has or will cause ‘serious harm’ to the claimant’s reputation. Australian law may vary from our own but Rebel Wilson still had a huge fight on her hands to get the settlement she did, as most cases nowadays are thrown out by courts or settled before they have reached the courts:
“I’ve proved very publicly that what I was saying was the truth and that they wrote a bunch of lies, and that I was maliciously defamed.” — Rebel Wilson, Sunday Night, 27th November 2017
As one of the largest sums of money to be won through a defamation case in Australian history, this shows the upmost level of care is required by journalists to think before they click to send.