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Report finds media defendants fared well in 2002
July 18, 2003 -- A report issued this month by the Media Law Resource Center found that media defendants fared well in 2002, as compared with other years, in cases brought to trial.
The number of trials against the media reached a record low in 2002, and the media trial win rate, 80 percent, was the best annual record for media defendants in the history of the report, according to the study. Defendants have also done well in appeals over the years, the report says.
The report, compiled annually, tracks the outcomes of trials in American courts against the media on defamation, privacy and related claims. The first report was compiled in 1980.
Among the findings in this month's report:
* Plaintiffs have won approximately 63 percent of cases that have gone to trial against media entities since 1980. But plaintiff wins were modified by post-trial motions in 24 percent of cases, and close to half of the awards that survived post-trial motions were modified on appeal.
* Plaintiffs who win monetary awards tend to hold on to them only one-third of the time. Awards were reversed or modified on appeal 46.5 percent of the time, and parties settled following trial 13 percent of the time.
* The number of trials against the media reached a record low of five in 2002. Media defendants won four of the five cases that went to trial in 2002, the best annual record in the history of the report. In addition, the report found that media defendants have won more often before juries since 2000 than previously. The win rate in the last three years was 48.3, as compared with 33.1 percent in the 1990s and 27.7 percent in the 1980s.
* Only one 2002 trial resulted in a damages award. The award was for $225,000, in a libel case brought against the Lake Park Post in Georgia.
* Trials against newspaper defendants continue to decline in number. Audio-visual media have been defendants in the majority of cases brought against the media since 2000.
* Trials are often avoided. Once a case is filed, defense motions to dismiss are granted about 68 percent of the time.
The Media Law Resource Center, formerly known as the Libel Defense Resource Center, is a non-profit organization that monitors and promotes First Amendment rights in libel, privacy, and related fields of law.