A Media Victory on Actual Malice
December 31, 2015
Understanding actual malice
Public figures have always been required to leap tall hurdles when it comes to proving defamation – the law’s way of ensuring First Amendment rights – and those obstacles just grew a bit taller. How can one prove actual malice in a defamation suit?
Proving actual malice in a defamation case
To prove defamation, public figures have to prove that a story or statement was published with actual malice. If they do not meet this standard, they will not be able to win defamation cases. To prove actual malice, plaintiffs must show that the allegedly defamatory material was published with knowledge that it was false, or with blatant disregard for the veracity of it. If it can be clearly shown that a statement or story was published with knowledge it contained untrue information or with little-to-no effort to confirm truthfulness, then the actual malice standard may be met – a huge step toward proving defamation for public figures.
“The case moved proving actual malice to the initial stage of a suit.”
A recent court ruling just made proving actual malice more difficult, however. This means that in the future, public figures will have to show that allegedly defamatory material was published with actual malice much sooner than before. Peter Paul Biro, an art authenticator, sued Conde Nast after one of the company’s publications, The New Yorker, published an article questioning his fingerprint analysis techniques in 2010. The court decided that because Biro hadn’t pleaded actual malice to begin with, there was no defamation to be proven.
Actual malice in the initial stage of a suit is a protection for the media
This is important because though extra standards exist to protect the First Amendment rights of publications that wish to report on public figures, often even the threat of legal action may be too expensive for them to follow through with publishing the story. Biro v. Conde Nast has essentially moved the burden of proving actual malice to the initial stage of the complaint, rather than the discovery phase. By introducing that burden earlier in the litigation process, the opinion effectively makes it more difficult for public figures to follow through with defamation suits and gives the media more power to report on them as long as there is no reason to question efforts to verify the published material.
If you want to learn more about proving actual malice in a defamation case, speak with an entertainment law attorney for more information.