People are often confused as to whether spreading rumours about others or making certain allegations to or about someone constitutes defamation of character. What we see on American television shows is misleading as our law is very different from American law.

The requirements for a successful defamation claim are (1) publication of (2) untrue allegations which are (3) not in the public interest with the (4) intention of causing (5) harm to another.

Publication can be in the form of telling another person, not only publishing in the newspaper. The important thing to remember is that you cannot claim that somebody has defamed your character unless the untrue allegations were heard by at least one person other than you.

Your character cannot be defamed if you received an email with untrue allegations which was only read by you. The harm referred to above must be the result of the allegations being heard and believed by another person.

It must have the effect that such person sees you in a bad light as a result and acts to your detriment, for example the person who heard the allegations is your boss and you lose your job as a result.

However, if the allegations about you are correct and the person who made them had no intention of harming you, it does not constitute defamation.

For a person or publication to escape liability for defamation, the information published about another must be factual, correct and in the public interest.

One must be able to substantiate where you obtained the facts and did what was necessary to check the veracity thereof, then the information cannot be defamatory. The tone of the content must not emotive or filled with innuendos, open suggestions or wild allegations.

Direct quotations from stakeholders are acceptable as long as they are not misquoted.

If the subjective element (intent to defame) is absent, there cannot be a claim for defamation. Note that all 5 elements referred to above must be present.

If a story is newsworthy and is based on facts which you have verified, you would not be at risk for a successful claim based on defamation character.