This section covers the state law governing libel suits. The standards governing such suits are influenced by many things, including whether the subject of a story is a public figure or public official. This also covers the defenses to libel suits, including the "fair report" privilege, the opinion defense and anti-SLAPP laws.

Kelley v. Wren, Sun Publishing

May 6, 2016

The Reporters Committee and others filed a brief in support of a newspaper's request for review to the South Carolina Supreme Court, in a case that turns on what is required to show "actual malice" on the part of a journalist. 

Kelley v. Sun Publishing

June 4, 2015

The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus brief arguing that the trial court had misapplied the "actual malice" standard and not required proof that the reporter knew a statement was false or recklessly disregarded the truth.

Smith v. The Humane Society

February 4, 2016

The Missouri Supreme Court is considering whether the Humane Society’s statements identifying a dog kennel as a “puppy mill” and one of the “worst puppy mills in Missouri” are protected under the First Amendment as non-actionable statements of opinion. The Humane Society made the statements during a political campaign urging Missouri voters to approve a statewide public referendum on the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.” The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s defamation and false light claims, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. The Reporters Committee, with a coalition of 22 media organizations, filed an amicus brief with the Missouri Supreme Court. Amici urge the Court to find the statements are constitutionally protected opinion and affirm the trial court’s dismissal because the Humane Society’s statements are based on disclosed, truthful facts and are core political speech.

Angel v. Winograd

December 21, 2015

Marcy Winograd appealed a California Superior Court’s denial of her anti-SLAPP motion after being sued for allegedly defaming a local petting zoo by writing online articles and publicly protesting what she believed were inhumane conditions at the zoo. The Superior Court found evidence establishing actual malice based on the fact animal control officers found no violations after investigating the zoo and Winograd continued objecting to the zoo conditions, relying on her own personal observations and information from two trusted sources. In an amicus brief, the Reporters Committee and five other media organizations urge the California Court of Appeal to reverse the Superior Court’s unprecedented interpretation of the actual malice standard.

Two courts reaffirm protections for opinions based on disclosed facts

Michael Lambert | Libel | News | December 3, 2015
December 3, 2015

Determining whether a statement is a fact or opinion can make or break a defamation claim. Recently, two courts — the high court in Massachusetts and a federal district court in Virginia — dismissed defamation suits after ruling the statements were opinions based on facts disclosed by the journalist, reminding reporters to support their opinions with facts to limit liability.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held articles published by the Boston Herald regarding the suicide of Brad Delp, the lead singer of the rock band Boston, were protected as opinion, ending a five-year court battle.

California amendment extends libel provisions to online publications

Jennevieve Fong | Libel | News | October 30, 2015
October 30, 2015

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an act extending libel retraction and damages provisions to print and online publications.

Assembly Bill 998 replaces the term “newspaper” with “daily or weekly news publication.” This alteration extends libel protections to online daily or weekly publications which were not protected under the original legislation.

Section 1 of AB 998 states “it is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that weekly and online publications are afforded the same protection under Section 48a of the Civil Code as is afforded to a daily newspaper to the extent that the weekly and online publications perform the same news-disseminating function as a daily newspaper.”

The clash of ethics and law

The Rolling Stone report, and how professional journalism standards get mixed up in libel cases
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Kimberly Chow

The Rolling Stone article.

As controversy swirled around Rolling Stone in the wake of its story about rape at the University of Virginia, the magazine quickly sought to publicly examine what happened. It commissioned the Columbia University School of Journalism to perform an audit of the journalistic process involved, and the resulting report carefully picked through every aspect of the story.

Anti-SLAPP statutes face setbacks

Congress may again consider an anti-SLAPP bill, but Washington state loses its law
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Kimberly Chow

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

A federal court upheld the dismissal of a libel suit brought by Yasser Abbas, son of Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but did not apply the anti-SLAPP statute.

Not long after a federal anti-SLAPP bill with bipartisan co-sponsors was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down that state's anti-SLAPP law, saying it denied litigants their right to a trial by jury. As anti-SLAPP laws become ever more important to journalists, the loss of a strong state statute leaves many hoping that the federal effort will finally bear fruit.

Washington Supreme Court strikes down anti-SLAPP law as unconstitutional

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | May 28, 2015
May 28, 2015

In a disappointing ruling today, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s anti-SLAPP law in its entirety, holding that it violates the right to trial by jury under the Washington Constitution.

The decision marks the first time an anti-SLAPP law has been held unconstitutional. The Washington law, RCW 4.24.525, required judges to weigh the disputed facts of cases and dismiss them if they determined that the plaintiff could not show by clear and convincing evidence a probability of prevailing on the claim. The Washington Supreme Court held that it must be juries, not judges, who make those determinations of fact.

Federal anti-SLAPP bill introduced in the House

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | May 15, 2015
May 15, 2015

A federal anti-SLAPP bill with bipartisan co-sponsors was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week. The SPEAK FREE Act, introduced Wednesday by Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., is seen as an important step toward nationwide protection against meritless suits that chill speech.