Libel 101

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Libel 101

  1. 1. Libel 101 A brief introduction
  2. 2. Six elements of libel • Defamation
  3. 3. Six elements of libel • Defamation • Identification
  4. 4. Six elements of libel • Defamation • Identification • Publication – Libel versus slander
  5. 5. Six elements of libel • • • • Defamation Identification Publication Falsity – Seditious libel: “The greater the truth, the greater the libel” – John Peter Zenger trial, 1735
  6. 6. Six elements of libel • • • • • Defamation Identification Publication Falsity Injury
  7. 7. Six elements of libel • • • • • • Defamation Identification Publication Falsity Injury Fault
  8. 8. Times v. Sullivan • 1964 case involving advertisement on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr.
  9. 9. Times v. Sullivan • 1964 case involving advertisement on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr. • Libel suits brought by public officials could stifle free and robust debate of public issues
  10. 10. Times v. Sullivan • 1964 case involving advertisement on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr. • Libel suits brought by public officials could stifle free and robust debate of public issues • For the first time, the courts decide that the media must be at fault — “actual malice”
  11. 11. What is “actual malice”? • Knowingly false
  12. 12. What is “actual malice”? • Knowingly false • Reckless disregard for whether something is true or false
  13. 13. What is “actual malice”? • Knowingly false • Reckless disregard for whether something is true or false • This new standard applied to public officials — later to public figures, too
  14. 14. Fault and private figures • Libel was previously a “no fault” tort
  15. 15. Fault and private figures • Libel was previously a “no fault” tort • Supreme Court briefly applied the “actual malice” standard to private figures
  16. 16. Fault and private figures • Libel was previously a “no fault” tort • Supreme Court briefly applied the “actual malice” standard to private figures • Finally arrived at the “negligence” standard
  17. 17. What is negligence? • Failure to exercise the care that a reasonable person would show in verifying truth
  18. 18. What is negligence? • Failure to exercise the care that a reasonable person would show in verifying truth • What about relying on police reports?
  19. 19. Libel defenses • Truth – Journalism is protected if it is “substantially” true
  20. 20. Libel defenses • Truth • “Fair report” privilege – Public officials’ libelous comments may only be quoted if uttered in a public, official setting – Knowledge of falsity can negate this defense – Lawsuits and other public documents may be quoted from without penalty
  21. 21. Libel defenses • Truth • “Fair report” privilege • Fair comment and criticism – Does not protect provable assertions of fact • Protected: It is my opinion that Smith is a jerk • Not protected: It is my opinion that Smith is a drug addict
  22. 22. Libel defenses • • • • Truth “Fair report” privilege Fair comment and criticism “Wire service” defense – A news organization can’t be successfully sued for running a libelous wire-service story – Unless news organization has knowledge that story is false
  23. 23. “Steps for Avoiding Libel Suits” (Bender) • Fully identify all sources – Complete name with middle initial – Age – Address
  24. 24. “Steps for Avoiding Libel Suits” (Bender) • Fully identify all sources • Always obtain comment from those who are attacked or criticized
  25. 25. “Steps for Avoiding Libel Suits” (Bender) • Fully identify all sources • Always obtain comment from those who are attacked or criticized • Be thorough in finding sources and reviewing documents
  26. 26. “Steps for Avoiding Libel Suits” (Bender) • Fully identify all sources • Always obtain comment from those who are attacked or criticized • Be thorough in finding sources and reviewing documents • Be careful with confidential sources – Try to avoid using them – Never use them to attack someone
  27. 27. “Steps for Avoiding Libel Suits” (Bender) • Fully identify all sources • Always obtain comment from those who are attacked or criticized • Be thorough in finding sources and reviewing documents • Be careful with confidential sources • Don’t rush a non-breaking-news story

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