College journalists have the same rights and responsibilities as professional journalists. If you damage someone’s reputation (libel) or illegally invade someone’s privacy The Daily and you can be sued.
The Daily bears legal liability for everything it publishes. The best way to avoid lawsuits are: Report and write carefully. Photograph tastefully and ethically. Prove the accuracy of what you publish. Follow established, consistent editing procedures. When in doubt, delay publishing.
If you ever receive any form of communication threatening legal action, bring it immediately to the editor-in-chief and the adviser. No one below the rank of editor-in-chief may attempt to handle a legal issue and the editor should only do so in consultation with the adviser.
LIBEL: This is a communication that harms someone’s reputation. Potentially libelous statements can occur in any story, but red flags include statements that hurt someone’s ability to earn a living, accuse someone of a crime prior to an arrest or charges, refer to sexual matters or behavior, describe unfavorable characteristics (drunk, deadbeat, etc.), call someone names, refer to religion or politics, criticize a product by name.
LIBEL DEFENSES: Statements that do those things are “libel per se.” That doesn’t mean journalists cannot print them; it means we must be able to defend ourselves if sued. Defenses against libel are:
- Truth. Some issues that can negate this defense are omitting relevant facts, intentionally or otherwise; or if the plaintiff can show carelessness in reporting or editing.
- Privilege. Journalists cannot be held liable if quoting or paraphrasing a public official acting in an official capacity. Some exceptions, which merit extreme caution, include quoting from police incident reports, civil proceedings and juvenile court proceedings.
- Fair comment. Non-malicious comment and opinion are protected if the comment is based on facts stated in the article. This applies to editorials, columns and reviews. If a plaintiff can show ill-will or intent to injure, that can void the fair comment defense.
PRIVACY: Truth is no defense if The Daily is accused of invading someone’s privacy through:
- Intrusion upon seclusion. Trespassing physically or electronically in the news gathering stage.
- False light. Depicting a person unfavorably and untruthfully.
- Publication of private facts. Revealing private info offensive to a “reasonable person”
- Misappropriation. Using a person’s name or likeness for trade or commercial purposes.