Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



SAGE Publications


Defamatory statements are those which harm an individual’s reputation in the eyes of the community. The law distinguishes between slander (spoken defamation) and libel (written or broadcast defamation). Libel law attempts to balance the interests of journalists and others with the rights of individuals and organizations to protect themselves against false and injurious attacks. American libel law has changed significantly since the 1960s, offering greater freedom to journalists to criticize public figures. At the same time, libel law has also become more complex, creating ongoing uncertainty about when journalists are on safe ground. Libel lawsuits are still the most common legal complaints filed against the news media. Defense against these can be time-consuming and costly; suits occasionally result in large monetary damage awards, and can be abused by the powerful to divert attention from their own wrongdoing and muzzle their critics. Despite these problems, attempts to reform libel law have rarely succeeded, in part because of opposition from news organizations.

Chapter of

Encyclopedia of Journalism


Christopher H. Sterling
C. Whitney

Included in

Communication Commons


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