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Legal Restirctions on the press. Libel… and how to avoid it Journalism 1CP Adapted from a presentation by Prof. Holly K. Johnson ©2012 Journalism 1CP.

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Presentation on theme: "Legal Restirctions on the press. Libel… and how to avoid it Journalism 1CP Adapted from a presentation by Prof. Holly K. Johnson ©2012 Journalism 1CP."— Presentation transcript:

1 Legal Restirctions on the press

2 Libel… and how to avoid it Journalism 1CP Adapted from a presentation by Prof. Holly K. Johnson ©2012 Journalism 1CP Adapted from a presentation by Prof. Holly K. Johnson ©2012

3 What is slander?

4 A severed finger was found in a bowl of chili at the Wendy’s on New LA Avenue in Moorpark last night. ILLEGAL Speaker has no proof and says it out loud so many can hear. Slander = The crime of making false spoken statements that are damaging to a person’s reputation.

5 What is libel?

6 ILLEGAL Speaker has no proof and writes it so many can read. Libel = The crime of writing and printing false spoken statements that are damaging to a person’s reputation. Severed finger found in chili! A severed finger was found in a bowl of chili at the Wendy’s on New LA Avenue in Moorpark.

7 Slander and libel have a lot in common, they both have to do with lies that hurt people’s careers or reputations. Slander and libel are both against the law.

8 Although it seems obvious that you can’t lie about people and wreck their reputation by telling others these lies, there are details to consider: What if the person is dead? What if you say something about an institution rather than a specific person? What if you print a cartoon or image that defames the person? What if you’re just kidding? What if you just HINT rather than saying something directly? What if you’re being sarcastic? What if you’re just giving a general opinion? What if you just say someone’s a “poopy head” but aren’t more specific? How come tabloid newspapers can get away with it? What if you have proof that what you say is true? How can reporters protect themselves from getting sued?

9 Elvis slept with donkeys at Graceland. What if the person you are defaming is dead? If there’s no one to complain about your libelous words, you’re usually off the hook, but sometimes their relatives might sue you on their behalf and say you’re making the whole family look bad. So death doesn’t make libel okay. BAD IDEA

10 IBM computers cause brain damage in children. What if you say something about an institution rather than a specific person? Libeling an institution is just as illegal as libeling a person. You can’t say IBM computers cause brain damage in children without proof. You can, however, speak generally about how PCs are not as good as Macs because you’re not defaming a specific individual or institution or organization. ILLEGAL!

11 What if you print a cartoon or image that defames the person? A printed image (even on the web) that clearly suggests something about someone (or some institution) that defames it and could ruin its reputation is just as libelous as written words. But this gets tricky as with the image to the right. Is the picture really suggesting that President Bush is a Nazi or is it simply stating an opinion that he’s like Hitler? If it’s pure opinion, it is not libel. If, however, a reasonable reader/viewer would look at this and believe it meant he was truly allied with the White Supremacist movement, then it’s libelous. What do you think? Is this libelous?

12 What if you’re just kidding? If it’s ABSOLUTELY clear that the accusation is a JOKE and no reasonable person could mistake it for being true, then it is NOT considered libelous. For example, The Onion is a parody newspaper that runs joke headlines and articles like the one to the right that says “Wii video games blamed for rise in effeminate violence.” This is not considered libel. If, however, it is not 100% clear that it’s a joke, a paper may be accused of libel. NOT LIBELOUS

13 What if you just HINT rather than saying something directly? Hinting at something in such a way that it’s clear what you’re getting at is still libelous. Consider the situation at left. The pundit is suggesting that Michelle Obama was a call girl without saying it directly. It’s still libelous. ILLEGAL What do you think of first lady Michelle Obama? Well, I’m not saying she was a call girl before she met the president. Still of course, when you hear one thing obviously you ignore it, but when several prominent democrats say the same thing it’s hard not to wonder about the possibility.

14 What if you’re being sarcastic? What if you’re giving a general opinion? ILLEGAL Security guards at LAX airport are really slowing terrorism. They’ve confiscated over three billion pairs of toenail clippers and 600 gallons of shampoo, and they’re not done yet! Op/Ed Section Donald Trump may own half the planet but I think he’s a jackass. His hair looks like a mouse and he treats people like dirt. I met him once and he didn’t even shake my hand! LEGAL Sarcasm carries the same risk for libel as any other written speech. But a personal opinion is NOT considered libelous.

15 Reviews of art, movies, books, entertainment, restaurants etc. EVEN WHEN THEY ARE VERY NEGATIVE are NOT considered libelous because they constitute personal opinions. The food at the Applebees on Rt. 1 in Trenton was inedible. The waitresses were slow and the atmosphere was completely awful. LEGAL Op/Ed Section

16 What if you just say someone’s a “poopy head” but aren’t more specific? George Bush is a total moron. Written or spoken insults that contain no specific false allegations are NOT libelous. LEGAL

17 How come “tabloid” newspapers can get away with printing things that are totally bogus??!

18 ALIENS SPOTTED IN NJ! SATAN CAPTURED ALIVE! First, bear in mind that there is more than one kind of tabloid newspaper. The truly crazy (and funny) kind are the ones that make outrageous claims like the ones above, claims that cannot be verified one way or another. In this way they avoid libel by not actually defaming anyone in particular.

19 Answer 1 - They don’t. They keep lawyers on retainer because they get sued frequently. Aretha Franklin, Carol Burnett, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have all successfully sued tabloid newspapers. Answer 2 - They stretch the truth, so “Trump’s new $$$ war with ex-wife” is probably based on some court document filed between the Donald and his ex and they are just making it sound bigger than it is, but it’s not entirely untrue and they know just how far to take it before it crosses over into true libel. Answer 3 - Famous people often don’t bother suing even over lies because the publicity surrounding this type of suit could prove a thousand times more damaging than the original fabrication. But then there are the ones that accuse celebrities and famous people of all kinds of crazy things, how on earth do they avoid lawsuits?

20 What if you have proof that what you say is true? The governor of NY slept with and paid for a call girl. If a newspaper printed that story without evidence it would be libelous. The evidence, however, was in court records showing that he was being investigated for financial abuses. They had documents showing he’d paid for services from Emperor’s Club VIP, a known prostitution ring. If you have proof, it’s not libel, it’s NEWS! Privilege – the right to report fully, fairly, and accurately on the contents of official government records or the words of official government spokespersons.

21 How is libel proved? 1.Defamation- spreading false reports about someone that injures that person’s reputation 2.Identification -The plaintiff must show identification that he or she is clearly the person that the publication is saying bad things about 3.Publication -The defamatory material must be shared with a third party, or have publication. 4.Fault -The plaintiff must prove negligence (the report was published without reasonable care) or reckless disregard (the reporter knew the information was false, but published it anyway). 5.Damages -Money (Damages) is awarded

22 How can reporters protect themselves from getting sued for libel?

23 For an interactive libel checklist visit:

24 Invasion of Privacy When it come to journalism and your right to privacy, there are three different categories of people and each category receives a different amount of privacy. –Private People –Public Figures –Public Officials 4 parts of privacy –#1 Intrusion: invading a person’s seclusion or their personal affairs –#2 Disclosure: giving accurate yet private facts about a person –#3 False Light: implying they are doing or saying something they are not –#4 Appropriation: using a person’s name or photo in an ad without permission

25 Intrusion - invading a person’s seclusion or their personal affairs Includes: –Misrepresentation – pretending to be someone you’re not –Trespassing –Surreptitious (secret or unauthorized) use of a camera or tape recorder How to avoid it? *Always get consent (permission)

26 Public Disclosure -giving accurate yet private facts about a person ex. Medical history, sexual orientation, a suspect’s name, financial records, criminal record How to avoid it? *Always get consent (permission). *Be sure the story is newsworthy. *Be sure your reporting is accurate.

27 False Light -portraying someone inaccurately to the point that he or she is embarrassed and a reasonable person would be offended Example: a news station runs a segment on the problems of street prostitution. In the opening segment, the station runs a segment of a woman walking down the street in a short skirt. However, the woman is not a prostitute at all. How to avoid it? *Avoid using general stock photos of people. *Always get consent (permission). *Truth is your best defense.

28 Appropriation -commercial exploitation of someone’s name or image (unwanted publicity) Includes photos as well as use of name, image, and logos How to avoid it? *Always get prior written consent (permission).

29 Obscenity How would you define it?

30 Obscenity Published material that offends local community standards, portrays sexual conduct specifically described as obscene by state law and lacks serious artistic value.

31 What can you tell us about the Bethel School District vs. Fraser case described on pg. 22 of your textbook?

32 Case Facts On April 26, 1986, a student named Matthew Fraser made a speech at an assembly filled with sexual innuendos (but no obscenities) in order to nominate a fellow student for student body vice president. He was suspended for 2 days because of a rule stating that conduct that interferes with the learning process, like sexually explicit language, was prohibited. Bethel School District vs. Fraser (1986)

33 Court’s Decision and Reasons The Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the Bethel School District. Majority Opinion: Prohibiting explicit language in schools does not violate the First Amendment because it is disruptive to the learning environment. Minority Opinion: Fraser was not aware of the extent of the disciplinary action that would be taken against him, and had he known that, he wouldn’t have been quite so explicit. Bethel School District vs. Fraser (1986)

34 Constitutional Issue Is student speech protected by the First Amendment if that speech is considered lewd and indecent?

35 Bethel School District vs. Fraser (1986) Because school officials have an “interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior,” they can censor student speech that is vulgar or indecent, even if it does not cause a “material or substantial disruption.”

36 Impact of Bethel v. Fraser Today The case is only about 25 years old, and it demonstrates that even today the Court still re- evaluates student expression under the First Amendment. The schools act in loco parentis, so limits on First Amendment rights are justified. Acted as a precedent in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

37 Identifying Obscenity A reasonable person applying community standards would find that the item appeals to sexual interest The material depicts or describes in an obviously offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined as obscene under state law The material lacks literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

38 Obscenity is commonplace in some forms of journalism. Why is it recommended to avoid obscenity?


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