Elton John loses. My prediction? He’ll convert to Islam…
In a groundbreaking libel decision, the judge said that “irony” and “teasing” do not amount to defamation. The ruling offers protection to writers of satirical articles clearly not meant to be taken seriously and was welcomed last night by media lawyers and journalists.
“The transparently false attribution is irony,” said Tugendhat, in a 17-page judgment. “Irony is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used … The attribution is literally false but no reasonable reader could be misled by it.” The judge added: “Irony is not always a form of sarcasm or ridicule.”
For the Guardian, Millar submitted that the words used were “obviously a form of teasing” and the judge accepted this.
“It’s significant,” said media law expert Mark Stephens of the ruling. “What Tugendhat has done is move us closer to the US system where you can’t get damages for satire and humour, except in the most exceptional cases.”
The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, also welcomed the decision. “We’re sorry that Elton John lost his sense of humour over this article,” he said. “The judge – and, we suspect all readers – saw the article for what it was: a piece of mild satire. Newspapers have published satire since the 17th century in this country. The judgment is an important recognition of the right to poke the occasional bit of fun.”