Avoiding Slander and Libel


What is perhaps the worst thing that any news-providing source can do; regardless of whether or not the news provided is in print or is spoken? The upmost worst sin they could ever commit? Slander and libel. The dictionary definition of slander is “the act of making a false, negative spoken statement about someone. In law, the word slander is contrasted with libel, which is the act of making a false written statement about someone. The noun slander is from Old French esclandre, escandle ‘scandal,’ from Late Latin scandalum ‘stumbling block, offense.”

The keep it legal blog, which takes it a step further and calls it defamation in which slander and libel are two subgroups, refers to it as a statement that is false that, when published or disseminated, can be used to cause harm to one’s reputation; whether it is one person or a whole company.

The act of slander, or libel if the news source is spoken, is considered the worst thing a news-provider can do because it goes against everything they are supposed to stand for: to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. If someone denies that fact by telling lies or taking something as a fact when it isn’t, then the news source’s reputation could be shot. While it may be possible to regain it, such as the New Republic from Stephen Glass, not at all news sources can recover from such a scandal.

Anti-Slander and anti-libel are actually laws that are upheld as much as any other law. According to the keep it legal blog, “Defamation is not a crime, but it is a ‘tort’ (a civil wrong, rather than a criminal wrong). A person who has been defamed can sue the person who did the defaming. Defamation law tries to balance competing interests: On the one hand, people should not ruin others’ lives by telling lies about them; but on the other hand, people should be able to speak freely without fear of litigation over every insult, disagreement, or mistake. Political and social disagreement is important in a free society, and we obviously don’t all share the same opinions or beliefs. For instance, political opponents often reach opposite conclusions from the same facts, and editorial cartoonists often exaggerate facts to make their point.”

The keep it legal blog has some tips on how to avoid this such as stick to true, undeniable facts while keeping your personal observations, experiences, and reactions as only as your own. Don’t say that someone is a criminal, is sexually deviant, or incompetent in any way. In short, don’t use any labels that would bother someone if called as such. Also, do not undervalue the danger of the anger people could feel. If the right person feels as though they were targeted, the chances of you getting sued will only increase the angrier they are. If you are the angry party, then write out your rant and submit it to someone with a cool head before it published and listen to whatever that person says about the piece. Removing the name of your target is always an ideal notion as well. Removing or at least masking identifying features is another ideal notion. When writing fiction, it is considered a good idea to add a disclaimer that ‘this book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.’ If this should fail, then consider publishing a retraction. Consulting an experienced attorney when there is a suit filed against you or there is doubt and fear that you could be filed for one is always an excellent idea.

Creative Juice books says that the ways to avoid this are “Know the Law, Avoid Making Defamatory Statements, Avoid Identification with Actual Persons, Check All Names, Use Unusual Names, Create Composite Characters, Include a Disclaimer Clause, and Get People’s Consent.”

Slander and libel are perhaps one (or two) of the worst sin(s) a news-giver can commit. To lie instead of telling the truth goes against everything they are supposed to do as providers of news. The definition of slander is whenever someone makes false and negative statements, whether it be spoken or written, about someone else. When the statement is spoken, this is slander. When it is written, it is libel. No matter the reason and no matter who the target is, these are two things that every news providers must avoid at all costs.









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