Musings of a PR Professional

Libel on the Internet

The other week in my intro to journalism class, we were going over all of the legal issues regarding reporting, journalistic writing, etc. Eventually, the class got on the topic of libel. Libel is the publication of afalse statement that deliberately or carelessly damages someone’s reputation (Inside Reporting by Tim Harrower p. 140) and after some discussion we ended up on the topic of libel on the Internet.

Today, it seems that bloggers bash. They have little or no concern with the issues surrounding libel and are often unaware that what they’re saying sometimes can get them tied up in some serious legal knots. However, one saving grace for them is the ignorance of those being bashed. These people don’t understand the ramifications of libel either and don’t know that what these attackers are saying can be considered libel. They think it’s just them expressing their opinions. And while sometimes that is true, other times what’s being said is really seriously damaging stuff.

Hopefully, as the Internet and blogging continues to evolve and gain relevance, bloggers and the people bloggers are talking about will start to wise up. It will only take one well-publicized lawsuit before people start to shape up and be careful about what they’re putting on the Internet. But why wait for that? For those championing blogging, maintaining that it needs to be taken seriously, they need to realize that with more clout comes more responsibility.

Chapter Fifteen

  • It is imperative that all PR practitioners know/ are at least familiar with the laws and regulations that affect their jobs.
  • PR practitioners should be familiar with the regulations of: The Federal Trade Commission, The Securities and Exchange Commission, The Federal Communications Commission, and/or The Food and Drug Administration depending on the client(s) they are working with.
  • PR practitioners must be careful about what they say. Libel and privacy laws give a lot of freedom for expression of opinions but practitioners must be sure not to violate the legal limitations.
  • Copyright laws prevent people from using others’ work in an unauthorized way. But, under the fair use concept PR practitioners can use published quotations in their PR efforts as long as its attributed (p. 512). 
  • PR as a legal strategy is extremely controversial: “On the one hand, people and companies should have every right to defend their reputations in the court of public opinion. However, many are otheres by attempts to use extrajudicial statements… to influence proceedings inside the court” (p. 516).