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Comm Law 2/24/15

1. Libel: Mass media lose 72% of all libel suits brought to trial

a. Lose 80% of libel cases heard by a jury


b. On appeal Media wins 9/10 times
i. Anti-press
ii. Trial judges make mistakes
iii. Instructions to jurors are misunderstood
2. Libel/Slander: Legal actions designed to compensate victims of defamatory
communication
a. Defamatory: to injure someones reputation
b. Libel- written ; slander- spoken
c. Roots go back to Ancient Rome
i. Protect a citizens good name
d. Most libel law occurs a state level many variations
e. In order for libel to exist there is a number of tests
i. Must be defamatory
ii. Must be communicated broadcast, printed, posted
iii. Must identify the victim name, description, position, drawing,
photograph
iv. Must be an element of fault negligent or malicious
1. If you cant prove 4, must prove 5
v. Must prove damages
f. Scienter
i. Guilty Knowledge
ii. Does not apply to book store owners: physical or online
g. Idea of libelous words
i. Missouri: book of words that can be libelous
1. Often hold someone up to ridicule, hatred, or scorn
ii. Words cannot be taken out of context; except for headlines
1. Prez grows dope
iii. Change of words over time
1. Modern context
a. Gay in the 90s
b. Gay 2015
3. Categories of libel suits
a. Accusation of a crime
b. Sexual slurs
c. Personal habits/characteristics
d. Religion and politics
e. Business reputation
4. Defenses for libel
a. Truth
i. J.P. Zenger
1. Left concept of seditious libel
b. Privilege
i. Absolute: pertains to legislative forums, executive forums,
judicial forums

1. Intent to have as much free exchange of communication


possible
ii. Qualified: pertains to media
1. Protect the reporter, reporting on libelous statements
made by others in the government forum
a. Fair and accurate
b. Statute of limitations
i. Missouri, Iowa around 2 years
c. Fair Comment
i. Statement of opinion about the performance of a person who
places themselves in the public lime light
ii. Three part test
1. Is the comment an opinion
2. Is the subject/person a legitimate public interest
3. If the opinion is about a person does it focus on the public
not private aspects of the persons life
5. Who can sue for libel
a. A living individual
i. A family of a deceased person could not sue for libel
ii. Has since been challenged
b. Corporations generally cannot sue for libel
i. Personal Right not a Property Right
c. Governments may not sue
i. Individuals within a government can sue
1964 New York Times v. Sullivan

Group took out an editorial ad in NYT to criticize Alabama officials targeted


Montgomery police Chief (Sullivan).
Black children singing star spangled banner actually singing America The
Beautiful
Element of fault Negligence
U.S Supreme Court
o Overturned lower court conviction
Importance take away from this case
Public figure had to prove malice, not just negligence
Lowered the bar for who a public figure was

1974 Gertz v. Welch

Chicago civil rights attorney (Gertz), he was libel in American Opinion.


Magazine accused Gertz of being a communist, and a criminal
Gertz sued
Defense argued he was a public figure Supreme Court said in regards to the
libel statement he was a private person

1976 Firestone v. Time

Firestones were social elite couple in Palm Beach, Fl.


Time magazine ran a blurb about a divorce between the Firestones

Divorce was granted on grounds of adultery


Mary Alice sued
Supreme Court
o Ruled in favor of Mary Alice Firestone
Saying she was not a public figure in regards to divorce action
o

Two types of Public Figures

All purpose public figure


o

both categories must prove actual malice

1979 Wolston v. Readers Digest

Wolstons aunt and uncle were convicted Russian spies


Cited for contempt
Years later, Readers Digest included his name in a list of Soviet agents
Supreme Court
o Key: Court found in favor of Wolston
Engaging in criminal activity didnt automatically make someone
a public figure