An Article on Libel

– By Apoorva Mishra

What is Libel?

It is an untrue statement about a living person or existing institution that injures reputation by defamation, that is, by exposing them to public hatred, shame, disgrace or ridicule. Libel is the usual sort of lawsuit filed against the media or those who use the media to speak out. Allegations of libel in the mass media or on the Internet usually stem from articles that allege immorality, loathsome disease, crime, dishonesty or misconduct. People often sue to restore their reputations and to correct what they view as a falsehood, regardless of personal expense or the legal merits of their cases.

You can defame someone by publishing material in various forms. These include:

  • Via newspapers or other printed media
  • Broadcasting on radio and TV
  • On the web – including online forums, social media and micro-blogging sites
  • By email.

You also risk defaming someone if you repeat defamatory comments previously made or published by others – for example, quoting a defamatory newspaper story about them in an interview or blog.

A claimant would need to show that the defamatory material can be reasonably understood to refer to them – even if they are not named specifically.

Factors leading to libel

  1. False Statement has to be made.
  2. The statement must be defamatory in nature, i.e. it should actually harm the reputation of the other person rather than just being insulting.
  3. The defamatory statement must have been published somewhere, bringing it to the notice of other people other than the person against whom such a statement is made.
  4. Also, reading such statements the public should be able to connect that statement with the plaintiff.

Situations where can a Journalists be held accountable

It includes whatever an ordinary readers read, view or hear in between the lines and can easily interpret.

Sometimes journalists and others try to get clever with words, hinting and implying things, thinking they are safe because they can prove the literal truth of the words. However, that is wrong. What they have to prove is the meaning that ordinary readers take from their story.

Even if the publisher didn’t intend that meaning, it doesn’t matter. He’ll still be held accountable, because it is not the intention of the publisher that counts but what the ordinary public understands in general.

If the ordinary public names someone as responsible for crime, and the public relates it some other person with the same name, in such a situation the publisher shall be held liable for libel even if he had no idea about the existence of the other person.

The person who reports is always held liable, no matter if it’s reporting what someone else has said, no matter how genuine the source is. He should always be able to take charge of the statements made by him and prove that the reported statement is true.

Defences

While on many of these issues the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, the primary defenses to a defamation claim are that the statements are true, are not statements of fact, or are privileged. Some defamatory statements may be protected by privilege, meaning that in certain circumstances the interest in communicating a statement outweighs the interest in protecting reputation. For example, most, if not all, jurisdictions recognize a privilege for fair reports of what is said, done, or published out of government and judicial proceedings, and for reports of misconduct to the proper authorities or to those who share a common interest (such as within a family or an association). Privileges do vary somewhat from state to state in their scope and requirements. They generally apply to non-media defendants to the same degree as to media defendants.

Conclusion

As a reporter it is crucial to understand the responsibility he carries on his shouders and how sensitively he needs to handle the same. Reporters are ofcourse free to pursue their reporting in whatever manner they feel like, however, no right is absolute. This does not give them right to provide false information and play with the reputation of a person. As it is said, with freedom comes a lot of responsibility, therefore, there is a need to strike a balance by the journalists between freedom of press and requirements of responsible journalism.

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