Media organizations are powerful entities; unfortunately, their ability to access and control the flow of information has led to past abuse. In the United States, however, individuals have been granted protection against this abuse of power. Libel laws protect against media attacks on a person’s reputation.
Today we have access to more media outlets than ever before. However, the “Communication Explosion” has also increased the risks of libel to individuals and organizations from these sources.
Libel is an occupational hazard to journalists; the consequences can be serious, both to the subject as well as the author. Professional journalists need to be as aware of the intricacies of the law as their obligations to fair reporting; they need to know how to balance the public’s right-to-know with the disparate concepts of newsworthiness, individual privacy and defamation. Non-professionals also need to know about libel law. The Internet, call-in talk-radio programs, and talk shows, for example, all provide a forum to individuals wishing to express their opinions. The general public now has the ability to communicate to a large audience via powerful channels of communication, yet the average person has only a vague understanding of libel.
How would you know if you libeled someone? And how would you determine if you were a victim of libel and eligible for legal recourse? The goal of this site is to help students, aspiring media professionals and media consumers to understand the concept of libel . It provides an overview of libel, summations of key cases, and an interactive “What Would You Do?” section.
The Media Libel Project website was designed and written by communication students at the University of Houston under the direction of Associate Professor Dr. David Donnelly. This project has been supported in part by a PEFCT grant awarded to Dr. Donnelly and Journalism Professor Ted Stanton at the University of Houston.
As with any educational resource, we expect this site to grow and evolve. Dr. Donnelly and the students would like to offer their appreciation to Walter Cronkite and Larry Flynt Publications for their contributions, as well as to other individuals and organizations which have assisted in the successful completion of this project.