Who Can Be Defamed?
Anyone can be defamed. The distinction is basically between real versus legal persons, people and organisations.
Changes to the Defamation Act mean that corporations have no cause of action for defamation unless they are an excluded corporation at the time of the publication of defamatory material. An excluded corporation is one which either: employs fewer than 10 people and is not related to another corporation; or the objects for which the corporation was formed do not include obtaining financial gain for members (s9).
Unincorporated bodies may also defame and be defamed, but this depends upon the legal status of such a body. For example, trade unions and registered friendly societies can sue and be sued as such. An unincorporated club, on the other hand, could not sue but its individual members may be able to prove that each was defamed in a defamatory statement made about the club. If the executive of the cricket club publishes a letter defamatory of Bill Smith, Bill Smith may sue individually the people involved in the publication. If on the other hand, Bill Smith was to say of the club ‘The club is inefficient and corrupt’, officials responsible for the administration may claim that the statement reflects on their ability to do their jobs and may sue individually. In neither case may the club, as a club, sue or be sued.