TURNER V METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES LTD (MGM)(Abridged)

TURNER V METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES LTD (MGM)(Abridged)


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TURNER V METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES LTD (MGM): HL 1950

[1950] 1 ALL ER 449


Coram: Lord Porter, Lord Oaksey

A letter was published which criticised a film critic’s review of the week’s films.

Held: A person (including a corporation) whose character or conduct has been attacked is entitled to answer the attack, and the answer will be protected by qualified privilege provided that it is proportional and fairly relevant to the attack and the extent of its publication.
As to the question of extrinsic evidence it is necessary to inquire into the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the publication, and to evaluate all the circumstances surrounding its publication. This may include events before and after the publication
Fair comment must be one which could have been made by an honest person, however prejudiced he might be, and however exaggerated or obstinate his views. Grossly exaggerated language may be evidence of malice.

Lord Oaksey said: ‘If you are attacked with a deadly weapon you can defend yourself with a deadly weapon or any other weapon which may protect your life. The law does not concern itself with niceties in such matters. If you are attacked by a prize-fighter you are not bound to adhere to the Queensbury rules in your defence.’ and ‘He is entitled, if he can, to defend himself effectively, and he only loses the protection of the law if he goes beyond defence and proceeds to offence’. The word ‘honest’ should be substituted for ‘fair’ in the usual phrase ‘fair comment.’

Whether the words are capable of being a statement of fact or conversely are only capable of being seen as comment is an issue properly to be dealt with judicially.
Lord Porter said: ‘were a statement of fact, and the facts were untrue, a plea of fair comment would not avail and it is for the jury in a proper case to determine what is comment and what is fact, but a pre-requisite to their right is that the words are capable of being a statement of a fact or facts.’