Most businesses face adverse publicity at some stage, deservedly or otherwise. Featuring in a television current affairs investigation pretty much tops the list of difficult PR events. Nobody wants to see a balanced story on TV. Bo-ring.
There's a fine line between 'TV spin' and a big fat steaming lie. It's important to understand your legal rights if the press falls on the wrong side of the line.
Online restaurant home delivery ordering service Menulog found out all about adverse PR recently. A Current Affair was planning to run a piece on a scam in which it said Menulog was involved. But Menulog had already explained to ACA, in some detail, that another business was responsible for the incident in question.
Roll out the lawyers and the last minute urgent injunction application. The hard part is that your legal options in this scenario are actually pretty limited. Here's why.
- Defamation: with a couple of exceptions, companies can't sue in defamation.
- Misleading or deceptive conduct: news services are generally exempt from liability.
- Negligent misstatement: you have to prove that the media owe you a duty of care.
- Injurious falsehood: you have to prove that the publication is both false and malicious.
Menulog ran with option (d). And, against the odds, they showed that they had an arguable case on malice and stopped the ACA broadcast, at least for now. The judge said that a reckless indifference to the truth and knowledge of the falsity of a statement can justify an inference of malice. And that was enough to get Menulog its interim injunction.
It's pretty rare to stop a broadcast like this. The claims are hard to make out, and often the best advice is to batten down the hatches and ring up your PR agency. The Menulog decision highlights that you should examine your legal options really closely before rolling over to the media.
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