Restauranteurs lose defamation case against critic

Seeing as I have a hospitality background, and now work in PR and study journalism, this conflict story was of particular interest to me.

The owners of Sydney restaurant Coco Roco have lost a defamation case against restaurant critic Matthew Evans and Fairfax. In September 2003, Evans published a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, referring to the restaurant as ‘a shocker’, having unpalatable food, bad service, and rating it 9/20 – stay at home.

The judge found that the defence of truth was established, in relation to the bad service. The judge also found that the defence of comment was established:  the ordinary reasonable reader would understand that the review was the opinion of the reviewer.

Story on the Australian website here.

So hooray to reviewers being able to publish honest reviews. And good on those who do. And those who actually adhere to the MEAA code of ethics and disclose conflicts of interest, and don’t review places they have an interest in, and pay for all their meals.

Unfortunately I know there are those who do exactly the opposite: writing glowing reviews of venues they have an interest in, and favouring reviewing places where they don’t have to pay for their meal.



Filed under Entertainment, National News

3 responses to “Restauranteurs lose defamation case against critic

  1. Kevin Redd

    Interesting case BUT there is, however, a fine line between ‘putting forth an opinion’ about a restaurant and outright libelous writing- perhaps for the benefit of sensationalism or to gain readership for the author.

    We’ve all read some of those scathing reviews which definitely lean towards the latter (in my opinion!)

    So, if some derogatory piece of writing (which can definitely be detrimental to the restaurant in question) is published, shouldn’t the author take SOME responsibility for it??

  2. Good point Kevin.
    The restaurant in question went broke after that review. Never having visited myself, I don’t know what it was actually like.
    Perhaps it went broke because of the review, or perhaps it went broke because it really was bad.

    However, it’s worth noting that outright libelous or sensationalist stories not based on fact are still defamation.

    The defence of fair comment used by Evans in this case is only allowed by the court if all the following apply :
    1) The defamatory comment must be one of opinion, not fact.
    2) The comment must be made on true (or absolutely privileged) facts stated in the material
    3) The comment must be fair
    4) The comment must be the honestly held opinion of the writer/broadcaster
    5) The comment must be on a matter of public interest.
    (Pearson, 1997, The Journalist’s guide to Media Law)

    So, restaurant critics can’t just go spouting off saying “in my opinion, blah blah blah” and get away with it. If they can’t back up their opinion with facts, that counts as defamation.

    The comment also has to be fair – so the courts will look at whether a reasonable person, when looking at those facts, could form such an opinion. So a critic can’t say “I waited two minutes for my main course, therefore this restaurant deserves to be closed down”, because a reasonable person wouldn’t form the opinion that the restaurant should be closed down because of a two-minute wait.

    I guess the problem with restaurant reviews though, is how those ‘facts’ are proven.
    Most of the ‘evidence’ disappears down the reviewer’s throat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s