Defamation is the communication, either written or oral, of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may harm a person's (the claimant's) reputation, decreases the regard, respect or confidence in which a person is held or induces hostile, disparaging or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.
Defamation can be of an individual, a company, a product or even a government.
To prove defamation it is usually necessary to prove that the claim made was false and that the communication in question was made to a party other than the one allegedly defamed.
If defamation is oral it is also referred to as slander.
If the defamation is written, broadcast or published it is also known as libel.
In England and Wales the law allows for actions for libel to be brought in the High Court.
There are permissible defences and these are justification (the communication was truthful), fair comment (the communication was a view a reasonable man would hold) and privilege (either absolute or qualified).
A defamatory communication is presumed to be false, unless the defendant is able to prove its truth.
Compensatory damages can be claimed if the claimant is able to prove actual malice (public body or public individual) or negligence (private individual).
Actual malice must be proved for the claimant to receive punitive damages.