Twila Y. Coney, G00015416
Due: August 13, 2013
“Libel” is defined as a false statement about a living person that does damage to that person’s reputation in the community that they live in. It may also cause embarrassment or humiliation, or affect a person’s ability to make a living. There are two kinds of libel: civil and criminal. Libel (written or otherwise “published” defamation) was originally confined to statements made in the print media, but it now applies to statements made in the electronic media as well. The courts have interpreted libel as a more serious offense than slander (spoken defamation). In a global media age, this means defaming anyone, USA or elsewhere. Civic libel is defined as tortious (noncriminal) defamation of character by malicious publication tending to blacken the reputation of a living person in a way that exposes him or her to public hatred, contempt or ridicules. It also means injuring the person in his or her trade or profession. Civil libel law encompasses all forms of defamatory communication about a person’s character, including headlines, tag lines and all artwork (photographs, cartoons, and caricatures). It also applies to errors that may result in libel, such as incorrect initials or the wrong name with the wrong photo. If the defamation occurs in an accurately quoted statement that contains a libelous statement, the person or medium publishing the statement may still be held responsible. Criminal libel is defined as a breach of peace or treason. It involves inciting to riot or some other form of violence against the government or publishing an obscenity or blasphemy. Although charges of criminal libel are rarely passed in the USA, libelous material can and does go everywhere instantly. (Doug Newsom, 2013) A public figure is a person who is publicly prominently, so much so that discussion or commentary about that person amounts to “public concern.” However such are not necessarily public figures for any purpose. Public official “public figure” – person who voluntarily puts themselves in the public eye in connection with their activities or who are drawn involuntarily into public controversies. When a report focuses on an individual or entity that is not a public figure, especially strong support should be available for critical statements. Legal and ethical considerations: As free as the press may be in this country, there are still certain restrictions and limitations that writers must keep firmly in mind. The most important of these, for your purposes, are the laws pertaining to libel, privacy and copyright laws. However, there are also some pertinent ethical restrictions not governed by law. Ethics are a personal, private matter to be decided by each writer according to the dictates of conscience, but publishing etiquette demands adherence to some basic ethical principles.
Check sources thoroughly. Get independent corroboration whenever possible. Confidential sources, such as government employees, may disappear or recant in the face of a lawsuit. Don’t rely on someone else to be accurate. Do not let your opinion about whether someone is a public figure or official color your decision to verify the accuracy of a story. Be cautious when editing. Make sure the story does not convey the wrong information because of a hasty rewrite. Watch for headlines and cutlines that might be defamatory even though the text explains the story. Make sure news promos or teasers used to stir audience interest are not misleading or defamatory. (Advice for Avoiding Libel Suits)
“Libel liability” – Three principles inform the level of detail that should be considered for the support of factual statements in a report. 1) Both as a matter of state law and under the