P had written an article complaining about the number of BBC correspondents in Russia who came from minority groups. D claimed that P advocated blood tests for correspondents and would sack all ethnic minority reporters. P sued D for defamation. HL allowed P’s claim and rejected a defence of fair comment because, in the absence of words like “in effect” or “therefore I believe he is advocating…” the claims about P were stated as facts and not opinions.
Lord Keith: Whether D’s claims were statements of fact or opinion is to be assessed without reference to P’s article. Looked at baldly, D’s words conveyed supposed facts and not mere opinion. If a statement that was purely comment/didn’t state false facts, D did not have to prove that he honestly held that view nor that his view was objectively fair. The only way “fair comment” can be overcome, assuming it contains no false statements of fact, is to show that D’s dominant purpose was malice.
Lord Ackner (dissenting): To find defamation here will act as a deterrent to the publication of letters and place a heavy burden on editors.