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Media Law. JMC 201 Nov. 13, 2012. First Amendment.

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Media Law

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Media law

Media Law

JMC 201

Nov. 13, 2012

First amendment

First Amendment

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.

First amendment1

First Amendment

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.

Libel defenses

Libel defenses

  • Statute of limitations

  • Privilege of participant

  • Consent

  • Self defense/right of reply

  • (Partial defense) Good faith efforts

Failed defenses

Failed defenses

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.

Libel standards

Libel standards

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.

Libel standards1

Libel standards

The same standards apply to public figures. These are prominent private citizens, some celebrities or those who have thrust themselves into a public controversy.

Libel standards2

Libel standards

Private citizens enjoy a different standard than public officials or public figures. They must only prove negligence or carelessness to successfully sue for libel.

Libel dangers

Libel dangers

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 dangers1

Libel usually results from:


Exaggerated writing

Inadequate verification

Failure to talk with the subject

Libel dangers

Libel dangers2

Libel dangers

Libel law is still evolving, and new decisions can challenge what seems to be settled case law.

Invasion of privacy

Invasion of privacy

  • Holding someone up to false light in the public eye.

  • Intrusion

  • Public disclosure/ private facts

  • Appropriation

Exercise for fun

Find these records online:

The most recent civil lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court against Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio.

Find a business with which former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo is involved with.

Find the racial breakdown of inmates on Arizona’s death row.

Exercise [for fun]



  • Itule, B.D., and Anderson, D.A. News Writing and Reporting for Today’s Media. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies. 2003.

  • Hill, J. Beginning Reporting.

  • Arizona Reporter’s Handbook on Media Law. Brown & Bain, P.A. 1993.

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