Writing with Libel in Mind
A Guide for Non-Profits and Bloggers
Libel readers (and report-writers) should keep in mind the limitation of the libel reading function. A reviewer should not try to substitute political judgment for the authors, either about whether the report is worthwhile or trivial or whether the policy positions taken in the report are desirable. A libel reviewer may at times point out typos or offer editorial suggestions, but her responsibility is not to proofread reports. A sloppily written report may be more amenable to libel challenge because it creates the appearance of carelessness; or it may so reduce the credibility of the report that readers are not likely to take its charges seriously. Nor should a libel reviewer ensure that sensible conclusions are being drawn, or sound legal analysis employed, except insofar as such judgments may bear on the amenability of the report to libel litigation. Nor, even, does a libel review assess the accuracy of the report, per se, except insofar as accuracy relates to libel exposure. The reviewer’s sole objective is to enable report authors to achieve their expressive or political objectives while protecting themselves, and any organization for which they may be writing, from exposure to libel liability or litigation.
APPENDIX OF RESOURCES
A brief listing of resources to learn more about specific libel law rules and how they apply in specific jurisdictions:
Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Risks Associated With Publication (there are also guides on other legal issues of interest to writers and bloggers).
Media Law Resource Center, Public Resources
Free online resources include an FAQ on libel and selected articles from its journal. Members who pay their high membership fees get access to extensive online resources. Law libraries may carry the Center’s invaluable 50 State Guide to libel law, which features a lengthy outline for each state, with extensive case citations, updated annually by some top libel defense lawyers.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters’ Privilege
http://www.rcfp.org/privilege/ This resource offers a state by state compendium on the reporters privilege. Other resources relating to defamation and other issues faced by the media can be found in the Reading Room located on the same web site, http://www.rcfp.org/readingroom/index.php.
Libel issues are covered in my outline, Legal Perils and Legal Rights of Internet Speakers, available on Public Citizen’s web site.
Other information about Public Citizen’s Internet Free Speech issues can be found by clicking here.