Do I have legal rights against a newspaper putting my name in their paper?
Recently on our legal forum a user asked the following question: “I was arrested for a crime, but I have not been convicted. My local newspaper reported the arrest information. Does the newspaper have the legal right to do this? If not, what legal actions can I take against them?”
What is libel?
Libel is the written communication of a false statement to a third party which is harmful to the reputation of a business, person, or other entity. To be considered libel the statement must be published or written in some type of permanent medium (e.g., books, newspapers, online).
Can I hold the paper liable for damages?
Reporters have a tough job, especially if they are reporting about criminal activity. It is critical for criminal reporters to make sure their writing is accurate because they are asserting someone has committed a crime, which, assuming it is not true, could be defamatory.
So back to the question- assuming the information that you were arrested is accurate and true, the newspaper is generally immune from liability.
If the information was incorrect, the newspaper may also be protected under the fair report privilege. Under this privilege a newspaper is protected from libel suits if their reports are accurate and fair reports of information contained in an official document or statement made in an official proceeding. Additionally, the newspaper may not have to repeat the report verbatim but simply outline the general substance of the reported event.
Understanding official sources, fair and accurate reporting, and privilege
One of the first questions to ask is whether the statements made were from an “official” source. State laws vary. For example, same states have broadly defined the notion of “official.” Others have not.
Whether the report “fairly and accurately” reflected the information from the official source may also be a point of contention.
Finally, the source of the statement should be noted in the newspaper to invoke privilege, although this is not always legally required in all states.
What if the newspaper acted in bad faith?
Some states have ruled that a newspaper may lose their fair report privilege if they act in bad faith, publish a story they know to be false, and are motivated with a desire to hurt the individual.
Talk to a lawyer if you believe the information about you was published in bad faith.
To prove libel against a newspaper you will have to prove the written statement was false. If the information is true, you do not have a libel suit. Additionally, even if the statement was false, assuming it was gathered from an official source and the reporter had no knowledge of the falsehood, you probably also do not have a case.
You may have a case, however, if the information was false, you are able to prove the newspaper knew it was false, and they published it anyway with the intent to do you harm
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