Libel Guidelines

  1. Libel means injuring a person’s reputation. According to the Associated Press Libel Manual: “Words, pictures or cartoons that expose a person to public hatred, shame, disgrace or ridicule or induce an ill opinion of a person are libelous.” While an in-depth explanation of libel and student press law is beyond the scope of this handbook, the SM editors and the faculty adviser should develop a working understanding on their own. The model below, crafted from the AP Libel Manual and journalism textbooks, should be used as a practical guide for dealing with potential libel situations. It explains the basic terms of libel, its three components (defamation, identification and publication) and its three main defenses (truth, privileged information and fair comment or criticism). Answer the questions correctly and you will reach a reasonable conclusion about the potential danger of a news article, ad, editorial, photo, cutline, letter to the editor, etc. After reaching that conclusion, you can decide to publish it or not, revise it or seek further advice.
  2. Is someone’s reputation harmed by what you wrote? If yes, go to Question 2. If no, you’re probably safe.