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Defamation of Character

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By definition defamation is the act of injuring someone’s character or reputation by false statements. Cases of defamation are only considered attacks on if they are made in a vindictive or malicious manner. The person’s name is considered not only personal but proprietary right of reputation. Defamation is synonymous with the words libel and slander in terms of law. Defamation is a term that encompasses both libel and slander. Libel is a term used to describe visual defamation; as in newspaper articles or misleading pictures. Slander describes defamation that you can hear, not see. It is mostly oral statements that tarnish someone’s reputation.

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The term "defamation" is an all-encompassing term that covers any statement that hurts someone's reputation, also called defamation of character. If the statement is made in writing and published, the defamation is called "libel." If the hurtful statement is spoken, the statement is "slander." Defamation is considered to be a civil wrong or a tort. A person that has suffered a defamatory statement may sue the person that made the statement under defamation law, which would be called a defamation case. Defamation law walks a fine line between the right to freedom of speech and the right of a person to avoid defamation. On one hand, a reasonable person should have free speech to talk about their experiences in a truthful manner without fear of a lawsuit if they say something mean, but true, about someone else. On the other hand, people have a right to not have false statements made that will damage their reputation. Determining what is a statement of fact and what is a lie is called "absolute defense" and will end the case once it is proven. Then, the winning side may sue for punitive damages depending on the types of defamation. Our government places a high priority on the public being allowed to speak their minds about elected officials as well as other public figures. People in the public eye get less protection from defamatory statements and face a higher burden when attempting to win a defamation lawsuit. When an official is criticized in a false and injurious way for something that relates to their behavior in office, the official must prove all of the above elements associated with normal defamation, and must also show that the statement was made with "actual malice." "Actual malice" was defined in a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1988, Hustler v. Falwell. In that case, the court held that certain statements that would otherwise be defamatory were protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. This meant that public officials could only win a defamation suit when the statement that was made wasn't an honest mistake and was in fact published with the actual intent to harm the public figure. Actual malice only occurs when the person making the statement knew the statement was not true at the time the statement was made or had a reckless disregard for whether it was true or not. For other people that are in the public eye, such as celebrities, they too must prove that the defamatory statements were made with actual malice.

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Defamation has been simply defined as talking ill of another person on grounds which cannot be substantiated: “the issuance of a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm” (Larson, 2003, p. 1). However, in some cases where the grounds for ill talk may be substantiated, it will still be possible for the defamation offense to be committed. In general, the following situations constitute defamation: A false and defamatory statement concerning another; the unprivileged publication of the statement to a third party (that is, somebody other than the person defamed by the statement); if the defamatory matter is of public concern, fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher; and damage to the plaintiff. (Larson, 2003, p. 1) Defamation laws are justified by their focus on protecting reputations. The reputations can be those of individuals or entities. Defamation laws are meant to protect reputations from being damaged through lowering their status or through any other means. Lowering of a reputation of an entity or a person can be through exposure to public ridicule. Defamation laws which tend to protect reputation that is non-existent cannot be said to be legally binding as the reputation to be protected is not demonstrable. Typically, defamation laws are meant to safeguard reputations. Defamation laws are not meant to do any other thing that may be accomplished by other laws. There are limits to which defamation laws can offer protection, for instance, legitimate criticism on public authorities who engage in corruption deals cannot be restricted by defamation laws.Public bodies should not be allowed to bring up defamation cases. This is because public bodies serve the interest of the public and they should be exposed to criticism. This will uphold the spirit of democracy in running public bodies. Groups which are not legally recognized are said not to have any reputation. As such, it cannot be argued that the reputations of such groups have been defamed. However, if the group members can prove that their reputation has been defamed at person levels then they can process a lawsuit for defamation but only at individual levels (Singh, 2008).

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By and large, truth is not the only defense to a defamation claim. Certain statements, even if defamatory, may be privileged and therefore not actionable. The rules of privilege are complicated, but one example is statements made by officials in the context of an investigation or other official duty. These may not be actionable even when otherwise defamatory, because the law encourages vigorous investigation, especially of crimes, and it’s in the best interest of the public for officials not to be hampered in their ability to perform their jobs. The same may be true of statements made in court. Privileged speech may be absolutely protected or "qualified" (protected under certain conditions), depending on the jurisdiction. Learn more about the "privilege" defense to a defamation claim.

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Article 19. Criminal defamation. Article 19. Web.

Larson, A. (2003). Defamation, Libel and Slander Law. Expert Law. Web.

Singh, B. (2008). Criminal offence. The Star Online. Web.

The Canadian Bar Association. (2012). Defamation: Libel and Slander. The Canadian Bar Association. Web.

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Defamation of Character
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