The media should not live in constant fear of facing a libel suit every time a provocative commentary is published or broadcast, the Supreme Court of Canada said yesterday in a major ruling won by controversial Vancouver radio broadcaster Rafe Mair.
In a 9-0 decision that modernizes the defence of fair comment, the court found that Mr. Mair did not defame Christian-values advocate Kari Simpson when he denounced her stand on a book-banning controversy.
“An individual’s reputation is not to be treated as regrettable but unavoidable roadkill on the highway of public controversy, but nor should an overly solicitous regard for personal reputation be permitted to ‘chill’ freewheeling debate on matters of public interest,” Mr. Justice Ian Binnie said.
Judge Binnie said that the key to a defence of honest belief – particularly in an era when extravagant overstatement is common – should lie in whether an honest person could have held the same opinion.
“We live in a free country, where people have as much right to express outrageous and ridiculous opinions as moderate ones,” Judge Binnie said. “In much modern media, personalities such as Rafe Mair are as much entertainers as journalists.”
Score one for the chronically hyperbolic Canadian media personalities who live and die on the alter of outrageous and ridiculous opinions (ahem).