[9 NJSuper Page 424] By this motion for new trial, plaintiff complains of a jury verdict dismissing his cause of action, and characterizes that verdict as so contrary to the weight of the evidence, and as well, to the charge of the court, as to infect
it with such an apparent basis of mistake, passion or prejudice, as to require its nullification.
The suit was one for compensatory and punitive damages for defamatory words, relating to the plaintiff,*fn1 prepared and written by the individual defendant, Hoffman, the managing editor and acknowledged authorized agent of his employer, the defendant, Trentonian Publishing Company (hereinafter referred to as Trentonian). These words were then broadcast by said Hoffman over radio facilities owned and controlled by the defendant, Trent Broadcasting Corporation, and leased by the latter for periodic news broadcasts to the Trentonian.
The issues were as follows: -- Plaintiff pleaded and proved the nature of the defamatory words, the innuendoes thereof and their publication by at least two of the defendants.
The words published were defamatory per se as they imputed directly and by innuendoes malfeasance on the part of the plaintiff as a public official of the City of Trenton. Kelly v. Hoffman , 137 N.J.L. 695 (E. & A. 1948). There was no substantial issue as to the fact of publication on the part of Hoffman and Trentonian, although the Trent Broadcasting Corporation denied it was a party to the publication, relying on the defenses available to a mere disseminator. Kelly v. Hoffman, supra.
Upon the mere proof of the publication of these words, which were defamatory per se , plaintiff, who did not testify in the cause, became entitled to the benefit of certain presumptions running in his favor, including that of the falsity of the words and the accrual of general or substantial damages, without proof of specific injury.
The defendants joined issue generally, and pleaded the following affirmative defenses which were common to all defendants: --
1. Truth, in substance and in fact;
2. The truth, the public interest, the absence of malice and the privilege arising from fair comment as to the acts of a public official, i.e. , a qualified privilege;
3. Privilege of the occasion, namely, the proper interest of defendants in the distribution of news through their facilities, discussing the public ...