ERIC Number: ED220833
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1982-Mar
Reference Count: 0
The Evolution of Libel Law: Who Must Prove What--And Why.
White, Barbara Ann
Two libel cases have set the precedent for recent libel decisions: "The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan" (1964) and Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc." (1974). In the "Times" decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution's freedom of speech and press protects "all that is said about a public official in his public conduct except the malicious" even when there are errors of fact. The malice provision, meaning a deliberate falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth, has been applied often, but sometimes confusingly. Since the "Times" ruling, defining a "public figure" has proven especially difficult, although "Gertz" did help by deciding that the focus should be not on the subject but on the plaintiff and that private persons libeled did not have to prove actual malice. The tendency since "Gertz" has been to sharply narrow the definition of a public figure. Even businesses have been declared "private persons" who have to prove a much less rigorous test of libel--simple negligence. In these cases, the determining factor of a person's status has been whether the individual thrusts himself voluntarily into a public controversy to influence its outcome. These balancing acts by the courts have been both a blessing and a curse to journalists who must look carefully at a person's conduct as outlined in "Times" and "Gertz" to guess at a person's status. (JL)
Publication Type: Legal/Legislative/Regulatory Materials; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Gertz v Robert Welch Inc; Libel; New York Times Co v Sullivan; Supreme Court
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism (65th, Athens, OH, July 25-28, 1982).