November 3, 2021
Reporters write and report on stories about people and companies every day. While most articles are neutral, some articles portray an individual or company positively, and some cast the company and/or its executives in a negative light. When a negative article surfaces, at what point might you decide to file a lawsuit against a news outlet or reporter?
Libel and slander are two terms often used interchangeably to express journalism that is harmful to an individual or organization. However, they are not the same. In some instances, statements made against you or your company could be considered libel or slander. What’s the difference?
Audio: Listen to this article.
What is libel?
Libel refers to written statements that are defamatory. If a reporter writes or publishes an article about you or your company that comes across in a negative way, whether it is true or not, it has the potential to damage your career or at least get people talking. So what do you do if a reporter publishes an unfavorable written article about your company or executives?
What is slander?
Slander is verbal or oral defamatory statements. If a reporter, newscaster, or individual verbally presents you and/or your company in a negative way, then that’s slander. An example could be saying that someone is embezzling money when you see them living the high life, which would damage their reputation.
To prove libel and slander, you must prove the reporter's intent was to injure you or the company, or if the person who made the statement knew it wasn’t true or didn’t fully vet or fact check before issuing the statement(s) or article. Oftentimes, reporters will use the phrase “allegedly” in their reporting.
Is a lawsuit worth it to you and your company? You may think it will solve many of your problems; however, lawsuits consume many resources and can take years to resolve. Overall lawsuits:
- Are distracting, stressful, unpredictable, and expensive
- Include exorbitant costs of discovery, depositions, and more
- Encompass top executives who will be heavily involved – what do they need to focus on? A court case or moving the business forward?
Sometimes, a lawsuit can even draw more attention to the issue and reignite the news cycle after the story has gone cold.
If you believe a reporter intended to injure you or the company, you should seek a legal opinion, especially from a qualified attorney who specializes in journalism, news media, libel, and slander. For most companies and circumstances, the best path is to save time, energy, and money by not filing a lawsuit. For others, a lawsuit is the right path. It is always recommended to have a PR agency and legal firm on retainer.
Clients love Marjorie’s work ethic, speed and diligence. She has worked with Axia Public Relations since October 2011. Marjorie graduated from Rockhurst University with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and loves to cheer for her hometown Kansas City Royals. Learn more about Marjorie.
Topics: crisis communications