Libel and invasion of privacy
Libel and invasion of privacy are two very important issues dealing with broadcast media. The two are very similar but different from each. Libel deals more with what was actually printed or broadcast, where as invasion of privacy deals with how the information was actually gathered. Both have laws to regulate and influence what kind of information is gathered and, how it is actually obtained
Libel simply is defamation of character by published word, the publishing of falsities to hurt a person’s reputation or standing. However, now it is not limited to only printed word as in newspapers or magazines. Slander, which is defined as defamation of character by spoken word is now portrayed as a form of libel because of the abundance and power the broadcast spoken word can have as in radio and television. However, libel has a much stronger penalty than that of slander because print is seen to have a much more long lasting effect, and once something is on paper you cant take it back. On the other hand, with tape recordings and the fact that any spoken defamation can de saved and distributed, radio and TV most times fall in the libel category.
Invasion of privacy in fact does have strong ties with that of libel. Though it does hurt a person or organization’s character, it deals more with how the information is obtained. Simply stated privacy laws deal with a person’s right to be left alone. There are more specifically four types of violation of someone’s privacy. The first one is called intrusion, which is the actual physical violation of someone’s privacy, as in trespassing to obtain information. The second is appropriation, which is commercial exploitation of a person’s image or likeness with out consent. Thirdly is false light, portrays someone in false light or gives false pretences. Lastly is information on private facts, that are actually true but private, and that will severely embarrass or hurt someone’s reputation.
Through these definitions and specifics on each, it is easy to see how both intertwine and are closely related. Now what we know what each is it is time to examine which of the two is a more serious concern. Personally, in understanding the two, I would have to say that libel is a more serious issue with broadcast media. To be more specific, the worst possible thing a journalist or media outlet can do is to ruin the character of a private person. That is to say it is a much more serious offense to publish false information about some one who is not in the public eye. Subsequently, it is much harder for a public figure to prove libel because he or she must prove actual malice, that the medium actually intended to hurt the person with these words. More over, I feel that libel is worse because it is the actual publishing or broadcasting of the information that can hurt a person and once it is published you cant take it back. However because of this, the idea of false light, private facts and libel are very closely connected here.
It’s easy to see and understand the ideas of intrusion and appropriation. In fact many media slightly encourage their reporter to dig up dirt by either trespassing or sneaking around to get information, and as well to use a person’s picture with out consent. However the two more serious of the privacy laws are very much like that of libel.
To fully understand we much focus on these three aspects of the issue. Above all, it is the media’s job to publish what is true. It is its job to give the audience news and that of truthful news. The most serious concern with the media is that what they reveal to the audience must be true because as a society we are greatly influenced by what we read, hear, and see through the press. This is why libel is more serious than privacy issues. Publishing false or inaccurate information directly is the biggest, and most devastating thing a journalist or media can do. That is the underlining factor of the two. Publishing private and true embarrassing facts may hurt someone severely, but journalists feel that it is a right for a person in the audience to know the truth. Ethically, the journalist must give the facts. Journalistic ethics understands that the worst possible thing is to give false information.
Not only is it ethically wrong, but also, through the law, libel is a bigger problem. In actuality most initial invasion of privacy suits, especially in false light are changed to libel suits because they are more damaging. Libel suits are very expensive, upwards to a half a million dollars just for the cost to defend against a suit. Then, there is the cost of damages, which can as well be close to a million dollars.
Finally once a libel suit has been made the journalist and the medium he or she works for can face many non-financial ramifications. Understanding the above statements of the fact that the integrity of the story and the truth of it is most important, the journalist, and the medium may have more long term damages to there career. If reporting the truth is the most important and the reporter unveils false information, what can happen? The journalist and the media may get a bad reputation themselves and they may ruin there credibility. Once credibility of a press outlet is lost it is tough to gain it back from the audience. Who wants to read or listen to a broadcast that doesn’t tell the truth? Most importantly libel has a much more long-term effect on both the media and the person who the false information was about.
I wanted to save an example for the end, and the best one I can think of is this. Most true information about someone, someone else knows about, and therefore other people will soon learn. I pose this question. What would be worse? Digging up information and finding that the new mailman is really a rapist that the police have direct records of, or falsely accusing the new mailman of being a racist when in fact he is nothing of the kind? It’s easy for me to say it is much worse to falsely publicize the news of the man than it is to give true information about him, even though you may have obtained in an unethical manor. Giving the truth is the most important aspect of the media and if we as a society cant believe what they say, why should we listen. I believe the media runs the world and people are going to believe what the media tells us. There is no way around it. In this overwhelming case, it is of utmost importance that it gives us the truth.
Did someone say Vice President Al Gore won Florida? How about NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, FOX, and any body else. Now look what’s happening.
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