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Unprotected Speech: Libel. What is libel?. Occurs when a published or broadcast statement unjustly exposes someone to hatred, makes that person seem ridiculous, or damages that person’s earning power or reputation . Closely related is slander , the spoken form of libel.

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Presentation Transcript
what is libel
What is libel?
  • Occurs when a published or broadcast statement unjustly exposes someone to hatred, makes that person seem ridiculous, or damages that person’s earning power or reputation.
  • Closely related is slander, the spoken form of libel.
libel legal process
Libel legal process
  • Libel cases are civil suits.
  • Anyone associated with the production of libelous material may be sued.
  • Any printed information can be libelous.
  • Plaintiff(person suing) must prove defamation.
  • Award for plaintiff is money.
what are the five areas that make up a libel case
What are the five areas that make up a libel case?

To win a libel suit, the plaintiff must prove...

  • Statement was FALSE
  • Statement was DEFAMATORY or harmful
  • Statement was PUBLISHED
  • Source is IDENTIFIED clearly
  • Reporter must be at FAULT (negligence or actual malice)
how can i defend myself in a libel suit
How can I defend myself in a libel suit?

A defendant (or reporter)can defend himself against a libel suit if he proves:

  • Truth –
  • Consent
  • Fair Comment & Criticism
  • Privilege

Can you prove facts were true to a jury? Be sure your witness/source will testify to it!

Just because you can attribute it to a source, doesn’t mean you’re safe. If what the source says is untrue, you’re in trouble.


If someone gives you permission to print a libelous statement about him, he can’t sue you later.

Fair Report Privilege

You may report on newsworthy events and public controversies.

The public has a right to know what goes on in public places, especially in court or in the legislature.

Fair Comment Privilege

Reporters are free to give an opinion on books, records, movies, etc.

This gives freedom to write a bad review as long as it’s based in facts or on the performance.

how can i avoid a libel suit
How can I avoid a libel suit?
  • Prompt Retraction or Correction

This is both an ethical and legal responsibility.

It proves that your actions weren’t malicious or intentionally harmful

Double and triple check your facts for anything questionable and document that checking.
  • Practice fairness
  • Give both sides of the issue a chance to comment in the story
is libel different for famous people
Is libel different for famous people?

Regular citizens need to prove the reporter acted negligently or that they were careless or lazy

Public officials and figures must prove the reporter acted with “actual malice” or “reckless disregard for the truth”

libel red flags
Libel Red Flags





Child Abuse

Drug Addict




Mental Illness





can you recognize libel
Can you recognize libel?

In pairs, discuss the following scenarios and answer the question, based on the notes on libel.

Be prepared to discuss each scenario.

scenario 1
Scenario #1

A football coach tells you he’s benching the school’s star quarterback because “he’s been lazy and stupid. His head’s not in the game-he’s too busy partying and having too much fun with the girls.”

Can you print that quote?

scenario 2
Scenario #2

A local jazz musician dies. You’re collecting quotes for a profile about her, and one woman says, “She was a brilliant pianist, but the heroin turned her into a thief and a prostitute.”

Can you print that comment?

scenario 3
Scenario #3

After a weeklong manhunt, police finally track down Daryl Lickt and arrest him for murdering his wife. In the story about his arrest, you refer to Lickt as “the alleged murderer.”

Is it safe to say that?

scenario 4
Scenario #4

In a story about the hiring of a new principal at your school, you interview a teacher who previously worked with the new principal. She says of the man, “He was completely incompetent. He never kept accurate records and never supported his teachers. He was a total hypocrite.”

Can you print that comment?

scenario 5
Scenario #5

A coach at the school abruptly quits amid rumors that he verbally abused his players.

Can you report that those rumors exist?