Terms Associated

Actual Malice is what plaintiffs in the public eye have to prove in order to win a libel case. Actual malice is the act of publishing or broadcasting statements with prior knowledge of the inaccuracy of the statement or a reckless disregard for the truth.
A Chilling Effect refers to a situation where speech is stifled or limited by an individual’s or group’s fear of punishment. For example, the threat of an expensive legal suit might prompt self-censorship and have a chilling effect on free speech.

Defamation is the result of an attack on the reputation of a person or organization; it includes attacks on a person’s honesty, integrity, or virtue which result in public contempt, ridicule, or financial injury.

Fair comment: this common law defense guarantees the freedom of the press to express statements on matters of public interest, as long as the statements are not made with ill will, spite, or with the intent to harm the plaintiff.

General Damages refer to personal losses which result from damages to a person’s reputation.

Libel per se describes statements which are widely understood to be harmful to a person’s reputation. For example, referring to an individual as an alcoholic or criminal, or any description which would lower the reputation of that individual in the eyes of others. These words are harmful and libelous.

Libel per quod statements are interpreted as non-harmful except when seen in a particular context. For example, an individual is reportedly seen patronizing an adult novelty store. While this statement in itself may not be libelous, the fact that the person is a Catholic priest would be; the reputation and lifestyle of the individual would be adversely affected by this kind of statement because of his occupation.

Limited Pubic Figure is a private citizen who has voluntarily thrust him or herself into the public eye over a particular controversy to influence the resolution of a public issue. May have to prove ‘actual malice’ to win a libel case.

Malicious Falsehood is similar to defamation, but proof of damage is not necessary as with defamation — defendants must only prove the statement was false and published maliciously.

Private Persons are not in the public eye and do not have direct access to media. These people do not need to prove ‘actual malice’ in a libel case.

Public Figure refers to any person who receives frequent media attention, or is well-known in a particular area. Public figures who make claims of libel must prove ‘actual malice’ to succeed in such a case.

Public Principle refers to the heavier burden of proof carried by public figures such as entertainers and politicians than that carried by private citizens. Public principle is grounded in the belief that these persons ought to expect a thorough examination of their public actions. Also, public figures have an advantage over private citizens because they have access to the media to respond to criticism.

Punitive Damages are awarded to plaintiffs to punish the defendant. In a standard libel suit, if the plaintiff is a public figure they must show that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’; private people are only required to prove negligence.

Reporter’s Privilege protects the fair reporting of facts, as long as they are not libelous.

Retraction is an attempt by the plaintiff to correct a defamatory statement by a published or broadcast admission of guilt. The retraction of a defamatory statement may, in some states, lessen the awarded damages.

Slander is a separate charge from libel; it is a false and unprivileged verbal statement which does not originate in print.

Slander of Goods is a version of malicious falsehood in which the plaintiff’s goods are spoken of in a negative light, leading to a defamation of the good.

Slander of Title is a rare form of malicious falsehood in which the plaintiff abuses the title of, or falsely entitles the defendant or his or her ownership of property. Calling a local sheriff the Sheriff of Nottingham (after the infamous criminal Sheriff of Nottingham in The Tales of Robin Hood) would be a ‘slander of title.’

Special Damages: plaintiffs who seek additional damages, called special damages, are required to prove the libelous statement caused specific monetary losses.

Truth in the questioned statement is the absolute defense to any libel case.