Libel

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.

Federal anti-SLAPP bill is focus of House hearing

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Libel | News | June 23, 2016
News
June 23, 2016

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) bill, which would combat lawsuits filed to intimidate exercise of free speech.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 2304, the SPEAK FREE Act, last summer and the bill was referred to the subcommittee on June 1, 2015. Similar to anti-SLAPP laws passed at the state level, the proposed legislation would amend the federal judicial code to allow defendants speaking out about official proceedings or matters of public concern a special motion to dismiss the case early in litigation as well as a stay on discovery in order to combat SLAPPs.

Testimony of Bruce Brown before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice re: Speak Free Act, H.R. 2304

June 22, 2016

In testimony prepared for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce Brown tells lawmakers that the time has come to enact a federal anti-SLAPP law.

Tobinick v. Novella

May 31, 2016

Dr. Edward Tobinick sued Dr. Steven Novella for unfair competition, trade libel, and libel per se in federal court after Novella published two online articles about what Novella believed were Tobinick's unproven practice of treating Alzheimer's disease and strokes with the drug Embrel. Tobinick also sued Novella under the Lanham Act for the same publications. The Reporters Committee, with 24 other media organizations, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit arguing the District Court properly dismissed Tobinick's state claims under the California anti-SLAPP statute and federal claims under the Lanham Act. The brief asserts the District Court correctly applied the California anti-SLAPP statute in federal court because the statute does not conflict with the federal rules and is a substantive protection, not a procedural rule.

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
News
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
News
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.