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Media Law

A Practical Guide (Revised Edition)

Ashley Messenger

Media Law: A Practical Guide (Revised Edition) provides a clear and concise explanation of media law principles. It focuses on the practical aspects of how to protect oneself from claims and how to evaluate the likelihood of a successful claim. This new edition has been revised to reflect important changes and updates to the law, including recent developments relating to scandalous trademarks, embedding, fair use, drones, revenge porn laws, interpretation of emoji, GDPR, false statements laws, lies, and the libel implications of the #MeToo movement.

Media Law is divided into five sections that help non-lawyers understand how the principles apply to their actual behavior: background information about the legal system; things you can be sued for; how you actually gather information; ways the government can regulate speech; and practical issues that are related to media law. This book is perfect for courses in media and communications law or a combination course in journalism law and ethics, as it covers both the legal and ethical aspects of communication.

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3 Libel: The Risk of Criticism, Insults, and Trash Talk

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CHAPTER 3

Libel

The Risk of Criticism, Insults, and Trash Talk

It is common for a speaker to want to convey information or express opinions that will reflect poorly on someone else, insult others, or seem unfairly mean. These kinds of comments can range from accusations of wrongdoing to ordinary criticism to trash talk to gratuitously cruel outbursts or can arise in the ordinary course of reporting on controversial matters.

The most common legal issue that will arise in such situations is libel. This chapter will discuss how libel claims are evaluated in the U.S.

A speaker risks being sued any time he communicates something that would harm someone’s reputation. Libel suits have been filed, for example, when radio hosts called a reality television contestant a “skank,” or when Senator John Murtha said that marines killed civilians in Afghanistan. Such statements may seem perfectly ordinary. They are the kinds of things people say all the time. Yet the people who are the subject of the statements may feel as if they need to vindicate their reputations, resulting in libel lawsuits.

Even though it is difficult for most plaintiffs to win libel suits (neither of the two previously mentioned lawsuits were successful), defending a libel suit can be extremely expensive and time-consuming. Thus, it’s best to avoid libel claims where possible.

Courts have established rules that try to balance the interest of the plaintiff...

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