The Hon. Mr Justice Bell
SUMMARY OF THE JUDGEMENT
The next section of the leaflet turns to McDonald's advertising and marketing. The leaflet's references to McDonald's food, heart disease and cancers of the breast and bowel involved some consideration of McDonald's marketing, advertising and promotion to the public at large. The next section deals specifically with advertising and other means of promotion, particularly as far as children and the things which appeal to children are concerned.
This part of the leaflet brings more than one charge.
Firstly, it bears the meaning that the Plaintiffs use gimmicks in their restaurants to cover up for the fact that the food is of low quality.
It is not in my view defamatory to say that the Plaintiffs use gimmicks. Many marketing companies do so, and I do not believe that this on its own would lower either Plaintiff in the estimation of reasonable people. Nor in my view is simple disparagement of the Plaintiffs' food as "low-quality" or "at best mediocre" (the words used in this part of the leaflet) defamatory. I do not read those terms as a reference back to the allegations that the high fat and sodium and low fibre content, for instance, of McDonald's food leads to a risk of heart disease and cancers of the breast and bowel. In my JUDGEMENT the terms "low-quality" and "at best mediocre", which come to the same thing, are just general terms of disparagement like "junk food".
What is, in my view, defamatory about the first charge is the allegation of covering up the food's quality at all, so far as children are concerned. It is part of the theme of alleged deception which runs through the leaflet.
Secondly, the leaflet bears the meaning that in order to ensure that their food looks the same throughout the world the Plaintiffs require it to be treated with numerous chemicals. I am not, however, satisfied that this is defamatory, as the Plaintiffs contended. I am not satisfied that the allegation of the use of chemicals for consistency of product would tend to lower either Plaintiff in the estimation of reasonable people generally. Had the allegation been the use of chemicals which the Plaintiffs knew to be potentially dangerous, the position would be different. But the leaflet does not either expressly or implicitly in my view allege danger from chemical treatment of the Plaintiffs' food products.
Thirdly, the leaflet bears the meaning that the Plaintiffs nearly always use advertisements whose object is to trap children into thinking that they are not normal if they do not go to McDonald's and who accordingly, as the Plaintiffs intend, pressurise their parents into taking them there.
This charge is clearly defamatory. The real sting is the extensive exploitation of children by using them, as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurise their parents into going to McDonald's. The "normality trap" is a detail, in my view.
Finally, the leaflet bears the defamatory meaning that the Plaintiffs promote the consumption of meals at McDonald's as a fun event when they know full well that the contents could poison the children who eat them.
The defamatory allegations in this part of the leaflet are presented as simple statements of fact.
It was clear from the evidence that McDonald's thinks that children's advertising and marketing is very important. A considerable amount of its advertising and marketing is, as a result, directed at children.
McDonald's advertising and marketing is not directed at children specifically to trap them into thinking that they are not normal if they do not go to McDonald's. It is simply designed to make McDonald's attractive so that they will want to go there.
However, in my JUDGEMENT, McDonald's advertising and marketing is in large part directed at children with a view to them pressuring or pestering their parents to take them to McDonald's and thereby to take their own custom to McDonald's.
This is made easier by children's greater susceptibility to advertising, which is largely why McDonald's advertises to them quite so much.
The Plaintiffs use gimmicks, but not to cover up the true quality of their food. The gimmicks are aimed at making the experience of their visiting McDonald's seem fun, but McDonald's food is just what a child would see it and expect it to be: beef burgers in buns or chicken in a coating, for instance, soft drinks, milk shakes and "best bits" of all , I suspect, chips or fries. No cover up could last long. No cover up is necessary anyway.
It follows that in my JUDGEMENT the defamatory charge that the Plaintiffs use gimmicks to cover up the true quality of their food is not justified, but the sting of the leaflet to the effect that the Plaintiffs exploit children by using them, as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurise their parents into going to McDonald's is justified. It is true.
In my JUDGEMENT McDonald's advertising and marketing makes considerable use of susceptible young children to bring in custom, both their own and that of their parents who must accompany them, by pestering their parents. It may be said that this is an inevitable result of advertising at all to children who cannot buy for themselves. So be it. McDonald's have, after all complained about the allegation.
I will come to the question of food poisoning shortly, but I have decided that the defamatory charge that the Plaintiffs promote the consumption of meals at McDonald's as a fun event when they know full well that the contents could poison the children who eat them is not justified because although they do promote their meals as a fun event there is no real risk of food poisoning, and the charge clearly refers to food poisoning.