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Criminal defamation is the act of communicating something negative or damaging about a second party, and implying that it is fact when in reality it is false. This communication may be verbal or written, and applies to any form of media. The second party may be one individual, a group of people, a business, or an organization.
These types of insults may also be known as vilification, slander, or libel. Slander is any criminal defamation communicated verbally. Libel is the term given to any written or pictorial forms of this offense. Trade libel refers specifically to false statements made about business products, often agricultural in nature. These inaccurate statements may pertain to an individual or group’s character, business conduct, ethics, financial standing, and more.
The accusations made must be implied or stated to be fact and proven false to be counted as criminal defamation. In some cases, the intent of the party making the statement must also be shown to be malicious. Many countries have laws against committing this crime that allow the one defamed, also known as the claimant, to seek repercussions against the injuring party or parties.
In the United States, these charges are handled by local courts and the punishment varies widely between regions. The U.S. is one of the most difficult nations in which to prosecute cases of criminal defamation. This is due to the country’s First Amendment right, which protects the freedom of speech. Courts are often called upon to decide when the information released is true and protected, and when it is unnecessary, untrue, and destructive to another.
Statements made that are considered to be opinion or fair criticism may not be prosecuted as defamation. Information that is not deemed believable by the public is not considered slanderous or libelous either. For example, a newspaper that claims a politician is in reality an alien from outer space would not be guilty of criminal defamation though the statement could be considered negative.
In some countries, an individual’s feelings are protected as well as his or her reputation. Claimants can sue someone for injury to their emotional well-being as a result of false statements made. These claims may also be known as an attack on someone’s honor.
Laws also exist to protect individuals or groups from the release of factual information that is equally deleterious to their reputations. Information made available to the public that is true and negative is known as public disclosure of private facts. These true statements must be deemed harmful to the second party to which they pertain, and must also be viewed as irrelevant to the public.
Proving criminal defamation also usually means proving the individual making the statement knew it was false when he said it and said it/printed it/aired it anyway, and that the statement caused material harm to the person in some way.
That's why it's so tough for celebrities to sue tabloids. They may be able to prove they didn't say or do something, but they have prove harm, too, usually. And the question will always come up about whether having their faces plastered on a magazine is harmful to their careers.
I know Carol Burnett won a famous case against a tabloid, but I can't remember how the case went. I just know she won.
Defamation is very hard to prosecute in the U.S., unless the case is so clear cut that it's obvious to everyone. In the politician example, in an editorial, a newspaper could say the politician is an idiot, but not that he was a child molester. It's our privilege as Americans to call our elected officials idiots, but being an idiot isn't illegal. Being a child molester is. That would be a clear case of libel.
However, if the newspaper was reporting a direct quote, that would muddy the waters considerably. If the quote was germane to the story, and the reporter had it on tape the person said the libelous quote, then the politician could sue the person who said
he was a child molester. He could sue the paper, too, but the case would not be as obvious. Intent would be everything. Of course, not many editors with any sense would ever print such a quote, knowing the quagmire waiting on the other side.
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