Sample Public Relation Essay on Steps for Writers to avoid Libel

Steps for Writers to avoid Libel

Libel describes a type of defamation that a person commits through the publication of information that injures another person’s reputation, exposes him/her to public contempt, ridicule, or hatred, or harms his/her professional or business standing. Libel involves written or published communications or statements – communications that occur in a physical form (on record). Writers (including bloggers) and publishers have to exercise caution in their work to avoid charges of libel. Such caution is especially relevant when written or published work (pictures, effigies, signs, printed material, etc.) concerns individuals with public profiles (public figures). The key point from the analysis below is that to avoid libel, writers and publishers should adhere to principles of moderation, ethics, accuracy, truthfulness, and mindfulness in their work.

An understanding of what constitutes libel is essential for writers to understand how to avoid it in their work. To be defamatory, statements generally have to be false (Lee et al., 2019). Libel lawsuits require plaintiffs to prove falsity, harm caused, and the perpetrator’s lack of adequate research about the truthfulness of the statement. In libel lawsuits, particularly in the US, public figures further need to prove perpetrators’ intent to harm or reckless disregard for the truth (malice) (Levy, n.d.; Hall-Lipsy & Malanga, 2017). These standards are important to avoid to prevent charges of libel for written or published work.

Based on these standards of libel, the following are steps that I would take as a writer to avoid libel:

  • Being conscious of what I write: Liability for defamation extends beyond what a writer publishes to include the perceptions that the audience develops from the information. Such liability may also apply when the writer publishes a statement that another individual has made. While writing about a public figure, I would need to consider in depth the perceptions that fair-minded, reasonable, and ordinary readers are likely to develop from the information. I would try to control the meaning of the words that I utilize, focusing on avoiding ambiguity and conveying the meaning of my communications as precisely as possible.
  • Restricting communications to what I can prove: The most important defense in charges of defamation is usually the truth. I would focus on assessing the potential strength of evidence that I have, and that I could present in a court in case of a libel charge. I would present information whose credibility I am certain of, or whose sources are authentic (in case of documents), or would be willing to give evidence (in case of first-hand witnesses).
  • Choosing the right “level” of meaning: In writing, I would focus on publishing a level of an allegation that I am sure I can prove. Levels of allegation could include guilt, the suggestion of guilt, or inference of reasonable grounds for an inquiry. The third level of an inference of reasonable grounds for an inquiry is much easier to prove relative to the other two. In particular, I would consider incorporating court-like language in my writing to minimize ambiguities that affected persons could exploit. Statements such as “there are reasonable grounds for suspicion that …” are difficult for potential plaintiffs to exploit in libel lawsuits.
  • Acknowledging information that I do not know: Openness about the information that I do not have and the allegations that I am not making it important to clarify my written communications, and hence avoid ambiguities that may lead to libel charges.
  • Applying the language of opinion: Making clear that I am expressing an opinion is a suitable way to avoid libel through the defense of an honest opinion. I would use phrases such as “they believe”, “I think”, “she claimed”, etc., which identify the holders of opinions that I give in my writing. Rather than statements of fact, I would utilize rhetorical questions and words such as “appears” and “seems”.
  • Taking particular care with allegations of criminality and others’ attitudes and choices: It is essential to have particularly strong evidence when accusing a public figure of a crime, such as lying. I would avoid writing about the states of individuals’ minds, which are difficult to prove, and instead focus on their choices and actions based on verifiable facts.
  • Taking advantage of privilege defenses: Occurrences such as press conferences, council meetings, and public inquiries are safe to report on, as long as I give information from these events in good faith and accurately.
  • Acting ethically: Acting ethically involves choices such as using credible sources, cross-checking facts, restricting communications to known information, and being measured in my communications. It also involves the willingness to issue an apology and correction in case of a mistake.
  • Being aware of the parties involved: Some individuals, particularly journalists, police, politicians, business people, celebrities, and others whose reputations are essential for their livelihoods are highly likely to present charges of libel relative to others. Taking extra precautions while dealing with them is likely to help a writer to avoid libel charges.

Litigation affects the public opinion of public figures adversely because it exposes their lives in ways that they would prefer to keep private. As a stressful and drawn-out process, litigation exposes private details about the lives and actions of public figures. Some of these details are often unpleasant and undermine the images that the figures try to maintain in public. These effects undermine the reputations of public figures, which is a significant loss because these reputations are key assets in their livelihoods.

The steps described above to avoid libel involve the writer’s active effort to be mindful of public figures’ wellbeing and interests through adherence to moderation, ethics, and accuracy in the provision of information. They involve the writer’s care to avoid malice and give truthful information according to the facts that he/she can prove in a libel case.

References

Hall-Lipsy, E., & Malanga, S. (2017). Defamation lawsuits: Academic sword or shield? EMBO Molecular Medicine 9(12): 1623-1625.

Lee, W., Stewart, D., & Peters, J. (2019). The law of public communication. London, UK: Taylor and Francis.

Levy, P. (n.d.). Writing with libel in mind: A guide for non-profits and bloggers. The Public Citizen. Retrieved from: https://www.citizen.org/wp-content/uploads/writingwithlibelinmind.pdf