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Chapter 5 - COMM4303

by: Ailia Owen

Chapter 5 - COMM4303 COMM 4303

Marketplace > University of Houston > COMM 4303 > Chapter 5 COMM4303
Ailia Owen
GPA 2.9
Communication Law and Ethics
Steven Earl Kirkland

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Chapter 5 notes (defamation)
Communication Law and Ethics
Steven Earl Kirkland
Class Notes
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This 8 page Class Notes was uploaded by Ailia Owen on Friday April 3, 2015. The Class Notes belongs to COMM 4303 at University of Houston taught by Steven Earl Kirkland in Spring2015. Since its upload, it has received 109 views.


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Date Created: 04/03/15
CH 5 libel 03052015 NYT v Sullivan 1964 Montgomery AL NYT printed an ad requesting donations for MLK and free rights Claims of o Arrestsdiscrimination 0 Police misconduct Do not specify names O Sullivan had to nd people that said the ad was referring to him Sullivan police commissioner led libel suit 0 False statements damage reputation o Proved false and exaggerated statements 0 Won in Alabama NYT guilty fase info USSC unanimous Alabama does not have the right to punish NYT for advertisement chilling effect Claims of defamation ad as a whole was exaggerated and false facts 0 Student protests Sang a song different from one on ad Not expelled Not excluded from cafeteria Weren t locked out o MLK arrests 7 v 4 times 0 State defamation law at the time required plaintiff to prove 0 Publication was in print 0 Identity talking about you 0 Defaming statement don t have to prove that it actually did anything ADDED AFTER CASE 0 Actual malice reckless disregard for the truth 0 Damage reputation 0 False Defamation damages reputation Holding up of a person to ridicule scorn or contempt to a respectable and considerable part of the community 0 False assertion stated as a fact 0 Examples 0 Murderer o STD o Abusive 0 Terrorist Public gures not included in defamation Wide open public debate 0 No fear chilling effect 0 Should have more access to the media 0 Public gures should expect to be talked about Libel an untrue statement that causes harm Traditionally libel was printed defamation and thought to be more harmful then slander print could reach a larger audience then speech at the time 0 Changed after NYT v Sullivan 0 Common law someone has to be living to le a libel suit 0 Family members cannot le a suit on behalf of a departed member 0 Trade libel a product rather then a person has its reputation damaged Engler v Winfrey Businesses may sue for libel government entities cannot 0 An individual government of cial may sue for libel but not a local state or federal government body 0 Civil crime no longer has criminal implications Actual Malice A requirement in libel cases against public of cials that a publisher acted with falsity Reckless disregard for the truth 0 New standard in libel cases since NYT v Sullivan Defamation Holding someone to ridicule scorn or contempt to a respectable and considerable part of the community 0 Then Libel and slander are forms of defamation o quotDefamacastquot libel over broadcast radio that reaches a large audience Term brought about when the line between slander and libel blurred due to a broadcasts ability for slanderous statements spoken defamation to reach an audience as large as libelous statements written defamation Now libel and defamation are interchangeable Slander an untrue statement that causes harm Traditionally slander was spoken defamation thought to be less harmful then libel Criminal Libel An oldfashioned crime in which a publisher could be sued for libel by the government 0 Does not exist today 6 REQUIREMENTS OF A LIBEL CASE 1 Identi cation Plaintiffs must show that they were identi able from libelous material 0 Does not have to state their name because context circumstance or association can reveal the real person Adequate context has to be provided to identify a certain individual 0 Job title 0 Descriptive qualities 0 Courts will have witnesses testify their belief of defamatory statements being made about plaintiff o Misidenti cation individual s that are identi ed that the publisher did not intend to o A result of Misidentifying someone thinking the plaintiff is someone else Insuf cient description Identifying a real person that was meant to be ctional Leaving out personal data 0 To avoid this publications now include name with middle initial age address andor photo 0 Group identi cation individuals from groups can claim identi cation when defamatory statements are made about the group as a whole 0 No clear size limit various precedents set Largest group size successful in asserting identi cation 60 football team 2 Defamatory Language Plaintiff s must show that a statement asserts an untrue fact that would cause harm to their reputation in the mind of quotright thinking peoplequot 3 Usually implicating someone in unlawful or immoral acts 0 Sexual morality slut whore cheater 0 Criminal murderer rapist 0 Professional incompetency doctor as a quack o Aliments venereal diseases AIDS Libelproof a person whose reputation is so tarnished that it is impossible to make a libelous statement against them nothing left of their reputation to protect Asserting fact not opinion or humor Libel Per Se words in and of themselves are damaging o Prima fascia quotat rst sightquot 0 Murderer not context needed as to what that means Libel Per Qoud words or phrases that require contextualization in order to identify the harm 0 Crazy mentally incompetent or unconventionaldivergent Context in which the statement was made is needed to determine if it was defamatory Gertz v Wech minimized the distinction between the 2 terms Innocent Construction Rule A rule used by some courts to interpret libelous statements that might have multiple interpretations according to the most innocent interpretation or one that most favor s the defendant Falsity a defendant cannot be help liable for defamation unless the statement made was false True statements cannot be defamatory Alleged calling someone an alleged murderer can still be a defamatory statement if 0 They are suspected of murder but haven t been charged lthinkl believe prefacing a statement to make it seem like an opinion 0 Doesn t make it not defamatory 0 An opinion has to be subjective as a whole No part of the statement can contain assertions that can be proven true or false objectively 0 Ex I think Betty White is a bad actress subjective 0 Ex I think Betty White is a murderer objective According to newspapers can still be held liable for libel even when quoting a person who made the original statement Publication a defamatory statement must be made public Any dissemination of a defamatory statement not strictly in print A medium newspaper bulletin board etc can be held liable for libel depending on the amount of control exercised over the content 0 Newspapers can control content by accepting or rejecting ads can be liable they have the nal say on what is printed 0 Bulletin boards No one person is in charge of accepting or rejecting information and can t be liable Statue oflimitations a plaintiff must le a suit within a certain length of time from the original publication 0 Usually 12 years Fault Before NYT v Sullivan 0 Strict liability a speaker is strictly responsible for damage caused by their expression After NYT v Sullivan 0 Breathing space publication s about public gures need more room for honest mistakes in the interest of the marketplace of ideas Considerations for actual malice o The source information coming from a reporter reliable vs an anonymous tip unreliable 0 Deadline pressure publications running on deadlines may not have time to check sources 0 Believabiity o Incentive monetary gain can be achieved by a good controversial story 0 Categorizing plaintiffs in terms of having to prove 0 Actual malice Public of cials government of cials responsible for exercising authority or discretion in the affairs of state a Candidates for office and elected officials n Unelected public officials police Public gures after Curtis Publishing v Butts people who can command public attention instantly a Limited purpose public gure people who voluntarily inject themselves into a matter of public controversy in order to in uence the outcome protest leaders 0 Must only be for a limited range of issues a Allpurpose public gures world famous people in society 0 Negligence breach of a duty that results in a reasonably foreseeable harm behaving unprofessionally Failure to exercise quotreasonable carequot what an average member of a community would have done Often the only way for private gures to mend their reputation is through lawsuit but public gures have easier access to the media gtlltgtlltgtllt 6 Damages Not a requirement until after NYT v Sullivan 0 Actual damages compensatory monetary compensation to remedy losses suffered by plaintiff 0 Physical or emotional Punitive damages an attempt to punish the defendant for wrongdoings to deter them or anyone else from committing an act 0 Not awarded to private gures unless actual malice is proved Summaryudgment A nal judgment for one party without trial when a court nds either no material fact is in dispute or when the law alone clearly establishes one party s claim 0 Judge sees no chance for success dismissed before trial 0 Ex Newspaper writes an article correctly reporting about a person driving under the in uence DEFENSES FOR LIBEL assuming all 6 requirements are met 0 Privilege Defendant asserts a justi cation for defaming plaintiff o 3 branches only applicable when in place of work Legislative ln deliberations of government dealings Congressional members can freely discuss thingspeople without fear of libel Judicial testifying witnesses have absolute privilege Executive police cannot be sued for libel accusing someone of breaking the law when making an arrest reports are privileged as well 0 Absolute privilege a statement that can never be libel cause of action 0 Quali ed privilege a statement that may or may not be the basis for a libel cause of action based on the facts 3rd party publications reportingquoting from statements that are absolutely privileged are protected as well so long as the reporting is accurate and responsible a Newspaper quotfairly and accuratelyquot reporting the contents of a police report even if it contains harmful untruths Fair Comment to protect the speaker when voicing opinions that could potentially cause harm to an individual book review food critic 0 Protected from libel action when the provider of commentarycriticism is expressing opinions relating to topics that are appropriate for public comment and are not malicious in intent Neutral Reportage so long as a medium accurately recounts all sides of an argument it acts as a neutral conveyor of information and should not be responsible o Retractions a publication retracts a statement after realizing it is false This does not protect from libel but it does potentially reduce the amount of damaged awarded to plaintiff


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