Libel is a legal contention that false information has been published about a person, usually text or visual content, in permanent form, most often written. It is commonly confused with slander, which happens in verbal form. Together they are called defamation. The person suing for libel can get damages if he proves that the statements have harmed his reputation. Simply proving they are insulting or offensive is not enough. 

At least one other person must have read or seen the content and must realize it is about the person claiming libel. The libelous statements must be proved to be false. Simply calling someone a name is not considered making a false statement. The libelous statement, if it concerns a private individual, must have made without taking due care to determine its truth. On the other hand, if it is about a government official or a celebrity, the person claiming libel must prove that the statement was made maliciously. 

In some situations, a defamatory statement is protected. If a reporter publishes what was said or done in a government proceeding, it is protected by this privilege. If the statement is made as a way to report misconduct to the proper authority, it is usually protected.

Return to Journalism Encyclopedia.