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Can Charities Experience Defamation and What Can They Do About it?

— February 17, 2022

If the perpetrator refuses to remove the comments and issue an apology, the next step is to get in touch with a solicitor who specializes in defamation of character.

How can charities fight back against defamation? We explore this, right here… Defamation can be extremely harmful to a business in terms of reputation. It is something which can affect any kind of business, including charities.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how a charitable organization might experience defamation of character and what they can do about it. Take a look…

What is Defamation?

Defamation – or defamation of character – are the terms used to describe the action of making a verbal or written statement about a person or a business which is not based on fact, and which may harm the person or company’s reputation. Around 152 defamation claims are filed in the UK every year, and these are made up of a combination of personal and commercial claims.

Defamation is the act of spreading malicious gossip which might tarnish a personal or commercial reputation and, in the case of the latter, result in lost customers and profits.   

Do Charities Experience Defamation?

Yes, it is absolutely possible for a charity to experience defamation, and this can be incredibly harmful. An example of this was seen in April 2021, when Mental Health First Aid England launched proceedings against actor, Laurence Fox, after Fox referred to the charity’s deputy chair, Simon Blake, as a paedophile on social media platform, Twitter.

While defamation for a regular business can be financially harmful, for a charity it can be devastating. Charities rely on donations from the public and from large businesses in order to be able to carry out their important work. Defamation can chip away at the public perception of a charity, and can lead to businesses and individuals withdrawing their support.

How Can a Charity Fight Back Against Defamation?

When it comes to cases of defamation, a charity needs to act fast in order to minimize the damage caused, and this includes:

Ascertain the Damage

The first thing to do here is to collect as much information as possible, including the identity of the perpetrator, and how widely the defamation has been distributed. With the latter, the use of a sentiment analysis tool can be helpful in figuring out which platforms and media outlets the defamation has appeared on, and what people are saying about it. 

The charity should then prepare a statement for its website and social media channels to acknowledge awareness of the defamation. This should help to assure investors and the public that the information is not truthful and is being investigated.

Person holding donation box; image by Liza Summer, via
Person holding donation box; image by Liza Summer, via

A Personal Approach

The second course of action in a case of defamation may be to contact the perpetrator directly. This will give them the opportunity to remove the offending comments from all areas of distribution, and to publish an apology stating that the comments were not truthful. This important step gives both parties the chance to avoid lengthy and expensive litigation by resolving the issue in an amicable way.

Take it to Court

If the perpetrator refuses to remove the comments and issue an apology, the next step is to get in touch with a solicitor who specializes in defamation of character in order to explore your options in terms of the law. It is possible to bring a lawsuit against a person or business who has caused defamation, however, for this to be successful, there are some criteria which must be met, including: 

  • Proof that the comments are not a statement of fact
  • Proof that the comments were published publicly
  • Proof that the comments have caused harm

Your solicitor will be able to walk you through the process of finding and presenting this proof in a format which may be admissible in a court of law. Your solicitor will also be able to find out what, if any, evidence the perpetrator has which has led to the comments being made.

Often, a letter from a solicitor will be enough to persuade the perpetrator to remove the defamatory comments and apologize. However, if this is not the case, your solicitor will be able to explain to you the process of taking the matter to court, and what kinds of costs you can expect to pay throughout the proceedings.

If you win the court case, a judge will usually force the perpetrator to remove all offending material and, in some cases, pay compensation to the charity for defamation of character.  

What if you lose the court case?

You may lose a defamation case if you have been unable to prove that the comments were untrue, or if your opponent is able to present evidence which supports their position. In the case of losing the case, you may be forced to pay fees to cover your opponent’s costs and, they will not be obliged to remove the comments (although a judge may strongly suggest that they do so).

Think Your Charity Has Been Defamed?

Being the victim of defamation is never pleasant and, for a charity, can lead to altered public perceptions and a loss of donations. While you may have to resort to legal action in order to resolve the issue, it’s almost always best to first attempt to solve the problem out of court in order to save time and money.

You should also avoid seeking retribution by defaming the perpetrator (as tempting as this may be) as this will usually only exacerbate the issue. When it comes to defamation, communication is key, and, therefore, you should always endeavor to keep investors and the public abreast of developments.

Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal professional. Be sure to consult a legal professional or solicitor if you’re seeking advice regarding your defamation case. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.

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