Media Law. JMC 201 Nov. 13, 2012. First Amendment.
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Nov. 13, 2012
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
While the First Amendment offers a powerful guarantee of rights, it does not give journalists blanket protection. Reporters still must operate responsibly within the laws of the land.
Holding someone up to public hatred, ridicule or scorn.
Libel is the injury to reputation that occurs when a false published report charges criminal conduct, immorality or incompetence in one’s business, profession or office.
If you repeat a libelous statement, you can be held liable, even though it is attributed. Disclaimers such as “allegedly” or “reportedly” won’t save you.
Reporters enjoy great protection when they cover public officials. The Supreme Court has defined these public officials as those “who have substantial responsibility for, or control over, the conduct of public affairs.”
To successfully recover damages for a defamatory falsehood, a public official must prove “actual malice.” In other words, the reporter knew the fact were false or had a reckless disregard of whether the facts were false.
The same standards apply to public figures. These are prominent private citizens, some celebrities or those who have thrust themselves into a public controversy.
Private citizens enjoy a different standard than public officials or public figures. They must only prove negligence or carelessness to successfully sue for libel.
At least 90 percent of all libel suits arise from run-of-the-mill stories. A Harvard study concluded: “The gee-whiz, slam-bang stories usually aren’t the ones that generate libel.” Instead, it found that “innocent appearing, potentially treacherous minor yarns from police court, traffic cases, from routine meetings and from business reports” often are the source of libel suits.
Libel law is still evolving, and new decisions can challenge what seems to be settled case law.
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