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Lecture

sept25,week3tues.odt


Department
Journalism
Course Code
JN204
Professor
Bruce Gillespie

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Journalism
September 25, 2012
Week 3, Tuesday.
Defamation: the lowering of someone's reputation. Or can be an organization as well.
A statement can be deemed defamatroy regardless of it's intent and whether it was malicious.
Historically: slander referred to a spoken verbal defamation while libel referred to one in printer
materials.
The two types of defamation had different standards of evidence.
Slander required a plaintiff to prove a statement had damaged his reputation
In a libel suit, courts started with the assumption that damage had been done
Today slander and libel have merged into a single tort of defamation.
Defamatory statement: tends to lower a person in the estimation of right thinking members of
society generally, or to cause him to be shunned and avoided, or to expose him to hatred,
contempt or ridicule, or to convey an imputation on him disparaging or injurious to him in his
office, profession, calling, trade or business.
It undermines a persons reputations as honest, law abiding and morally upright
Thus, any allegations of misconduct, corruption, wrongdoing or criminal behaviour may qualify
as defamatory.
Qualifying Defamation:
a judge or jury ultimately decides whether a statement is defamatory.
Rhw journalists intentions is irrelevant and is no defence to stand on.
Likewise, the plaintiffs interpretation of the statement may not be accepted.
If found not guilty- it stops there. If found guilty- damages are awarded.
Judges consider the everyday commonly understood meanings of words in dispute.
Courts also consider the context of the article or broadcast item as a while, including headlines,
photos, caption and artwork.
What can be considered defamatory?
Calling someone a criminal- or someone who associates with criminals, has an immediate effect
on their reputation.
Once police have charged someone with a crime, media reports name the offender and describe
the evidence produced are shielded from defamation lawsuits.
Media are NOT shielded from legal action when the allege that someone is a criminal based on
their own reporting.
If they do so, they must be prepared to present evidence supporting their allegations in court to
win a lawsuit.
Defamtory statements don't have to be specific. Plaintiffs have won suits for being described as
villains, rogues, rascals and cheaters.
Referring to someone who has not been charged as an alleged criminal offers no protection
from defamation action.
LOADED WORDS:
Judges examine the current usage and understanding of words to determine if they are
defamatory.
While being labelled a communist or homosexual was grounds for a successful libel suit in the
past, it is no longer the case.
Hooper's list of loaded terms that have led to successful defamation suits.
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