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What Are Defamation Privileges?

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  • Written By: Adrien-Luc Sanders
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2014
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Defamation privileges act as a defense against legal allegations of defamation. Such accusations and lawsuits often occur in journalism and the broadcast media, because a person or organization may take issue with the statements published or made, and claim defamation. Defamation privileges protect a publisher or media outlet should it meet the criteria for limited or absolute protection under said privileges. In cases of factual accuracy, flawed sources, opinion and fair comment, or statute of limitations, the accused may have protection against defamation allegations. Those testifying or practicing in court are also protected against defamation accusations by default.

The privilege extended during court proceedings covers witnesses, lawyers, attorneys, judges, and even legislators. This particular application of defamation privilege protects such people even in the event of false or outlandish statements that could fall under the categories of libel or slander. This ensures that any testimony or statements made cannot be used to pursue further legal action.

In the case of published or broadcast information, defamation privileges are automatically conferred, if the information contested is a matter of substantial truth. Substantial truth means that, to the knowledge of the publisher or broadcaster, the information is factually accurate, provable, and presented in an honest fashion. This defense conveys near-absolute protection against defamation allegations.

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Both fair report privileges and wire service defense apply in the case of flawed or incorrect sources. If information is published based on a public document that contains false information, or false information in a statement from a public official, fair report privileges apply as protection against defamation allegations. If the false information is taken from a reputable published news source, the wire service defense applies to protect the one who relied on the source to provide accurate information.

In public matters, those reporting on claims made by public officials are also protected by neutrality-based defamation privileges. Should a newspaper report on a false claim made by a public figure, simply printing the claim cannot count as defamation by the reporting entity. Another area protected by defamation privileges is opinion. If a statement can be clearly identified as opinion with no claim to fact, it may not qualify as defamation.

Defamation suits also must adhere to the statute of limitations. If a reasonable period of time has passed, the claimant cannot file a suit or other claim against the accused without reasonable cause for the length of time passed. If the defamatory act has passed beyond the statute of limitations, the accused may claim privilege and protection.

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