Discuss a Legal/Ethical Issue - Essay Example

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[Name of Student] [Name of Professor] [Course] [Date] Introduction Journalists and Newspapers, in today’s era, have been granted a special position in society so that they could recount stories, opinions and experiences of the entire world without having to care about being held accountable for their published pieces…
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Discuss a Legal/Ethical Issue
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Introduction Journalists and Newspapers, in today’s era, have been granted a special position in society so that they could recount stories, opinions and experiences of the entire world without having to care about being held accountable for their published pieces. However, the law also limits newspapers from misusing their authority. One such limit is Libel, which dissuades the newspapers from implicating any person in a negative light which may harm the image of the person in front of the public. In this paper, an attempt is made to discuss the concept of libel with regard to journalism and newspapers. A court case, Hustler Magazine V. Falwell will also be discussed to clarify the concept of libel and its application in real life. Libel and its implication on Journalism Libel can loosely be defined as defamation of a person done through a public forum so that the image of the person is tarnished in the minds of the public. The US court defines the tort in the following words ‘words that tend to expose one to public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of one in the minds of the right thinking persons, and to deprive one of their confidence and friendly intercourse in society’ (Sanford, 4-4). Since the print media has the power to reach the public and their minds through words, they have increased chances of being implicated for Libel. There is however a thin line between Libel and freedom of the press. It is the duty and right of the press to report all kinds of cases and often this involves a negative image of the concerned person. However, the concerned person has the right to file for libel if he believes that his image is being wrongly tarnished and he deserves a better treatment at the hands of both the media and the public. Hustler Magazine V. Falwell Hustler Magazine is a publishing magazine that has been known for its crude humor and use of sexual overtones. In one edition of the magazine, the magazine featured a parody of Falwell and Campari wines. Campari wines, at that time, had recently launched an advertising campaign of different celebrities discussing his first time with the wine. In the parody created by Hustler Magazine, Jerry Falwell was parodied recounting his first time with his mother in an outhouse. Though, the piece at the end clearly mentioned that it was a parody and was not to be taken seriously, Falwell was offended and filed a case against Hustler Magazine (Lively and Weaver, 79). Discussion Falwell filed a case of libel citing that since he was a public figure, his image was impacted and he had suffered emotional distress. Hustler Magazine defended them on the basis of First Amendment Act and claimed that the ad was not meant to be taken seriously. Falwell argued that this ad was not covered in the First Amendment Act and he should be compensated for damages. The court ruled in favor of Hustler Magazine citing that ruling in favor of Falwell would prevent the media from freely using the medium to express new ideas and opinions. Though the tort was intentional, the magazine did not intend to spread malice about the public figure. They had clearly mentioned that the ad was a fictional piece of writing and was not to be taken seriously. The magazine had the right under the First Amendment for freedom of speech and public figures could not file for emotional distress or libel for such ads. In this case, there was no case of libel. Public figures such as Falwell should realize the importance of freedom of the speech. The piece was meant to be a joke and it should have been taken lightly. The ad did not spread malice about the concerned figure. The public viewing the ad understand it to be what it was- a humorous parody. They did not start developing a negative image about the personality. However, if I consider myself to be in the same situation, I would have been incensed also. There are always limits to how media can exercise their freedom of speech. When the media does not take its responsibilities seriously, it runs the risk of losing the approval of the public and their important figures. Even though, the ruling in the favor of Hustle Magazine was right to a certain extent but I still believe that there should be limits to the rights of freedom of speech and expression for the media. The magazine may not have intended to spread malice about Falwell but their ad did have its repercussions. The ad, to a certain extent, belittled the authority of Falwell. Most people viewing the ad would have begun to associate Falwell with the ad and this compromises the image of Falwell, that he had so painstaking developed. Also the magazine took a very personal topic to target. They implicated, though in a humorous way, that Falwell’s first time was with his mother. It would have, to a certain extent, impacted the relation between the son and the mother. In my opinion, even if the court did not allow Falwell the right to demand damages from the magazine for libel, they should have provided compensation for the emotional distress that Falwell went through. The media when it publishes certain images or words about certain public figures does not take into account the impact this would have on the life of the figure and also the people in association with the figure. The ruling of this case gives power in the hands of the media to misuse their important position to ridicule public figures and to also cause them emotional distress. Freedom of the press should be limited to a certain degree so that they do not wrongfully tarnish the image of public figures. Conclusion In conclusion, it can be said that Libel is a concept that limits the freedom of the speech to the extent that newspaper do not use their position to spread negative stories about public figures which may tarnish the image of the concerned individual in the eyes of the public. References Lively, Donald and Weaver, Russell, Contemporary Supreme Court Cases: Landmark Decisions Since Roe V. Wade, New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, Print Sanford, Bruce, Libel and Privacy, New York: Aspen Publishers Online, 2004, Web Read More
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