Shehbaz Sharif vs Daily Mail: ‘The Story Seems To Rely On Information Given By Sources Close To Govt’

Shehbaz Sharif vs Daily Mail: ‘The Story Seems To Rely On Information Given By Sources Close To Govt’
The fact that Shehbaz Sharif has decided to sue the Daily Mail suggests that he is confident and thinks he has a shot at winning the case, said renowned lawyer Ayesha Ijaz Khan.

“Otherwise we know that often allegations are made against public figures in the press but rarely are they followed up with defamation lawsuits,” she added.

Ayesha was commenting on the defamation case by PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif after the British newspaper had accused him of corruption in the funds provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) for the 2005 earthquake.

Also read: UK’s DFID Rejects Mail on Sunday’s Story, Says Newspaper Provides Little Substantial Evidence To support Its Headline

The defamation case looks set to proceed for a trial at the Royal Courts of Justice after both parties failed to engage with each other through lawyers to resolve the case without involving the court and traded allegations on social media.

Ayesha said, “Shehbaz Sharif's case hinges on whether or not the allegations made are true, in my opinion. The Daily Mail can certainly claim that the matter written upon is in the public interest.  However, whether or not what was written is true should determine the fate of the case.”

“The story in question does seem to rely on a lot of information given by sources who may be close to the current government.  That may call into question whether the reporting was adequately and diligently researched or not.  So let's see what the outcome of the case is.”

About the UK defamation laws, Ayesha explained that these are rooted in the idea that a reputation is worthy of protection.  “Hence defamation laws protect reputations from being wrongly sullied.  On the other hand, the UK also has strong free speech laws.  Courts must decide between these two competing interests,” she said. 

In order for a claimant to succeed in a defamation lawsuit, Ayesha said, three requirements must be met:  1) the statement being made must not be true; 2) the statement must refer to the claimant; and 3) the statement must have been published.  (Publication can take many forms, including being broadcast or published on the internet.)

On the other hand, for the defendant to succeed, truth is the most obvious justification.

“If what is being said is true, no matter how odious, there is no case for defamation.  But there are also other acceptable defences, such as fair comment on matters of legitimate public concern, where opinions rather than facts are justified, as in the case of writing a book review, for instance,” she noted.

According to Ayesha, journalists could also use the defence that they wrote about a matter in the public interest and researched the matter diligently and conducted themselves in a responsible manner.

“To give one recent example, the Daily Mail, the very publication sued by Shehbaz Sharif, was sued by Melania Trump and she succeeded on her defamation suit against the publication in 2017,” she said.

The Daily Mail had made untrue allegations against her, relying on a Slovenian publication.  The publication had to apologise for the story and pay £3 Million in damages (though the plaintiff had asked for £120 Million), Ayesha noted.

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