Understanding Libel

Atty. Noel Atienza
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Being libel-proof means quite simply that the plaintiff’s reputation is so bad that any false statement could not lower that person in the eyes of the community any further. The thought is that such a plaintiff’s claim must fail because that plaintiff has suffered no harm as a result of the false statement.

Under Article 353, Revised Penal Code (RPC), libel refers to a public and malicious imputation of vice or defect, crime, real or imaginary that can cause the contempt, discredit or dishonor a person.

There are various ways libel can be committed. A person can commit libel by means of printing, writing, engraving, theatrical exhibition, lithography and others. Article 355, Revised Penal Code stated when defamation is made in a television or any broadcast medium, it is also considered libel.

Any person who published or exhibit any defamation in writing or other means will be held liable for the crime of libel. Aside from the author or editor of the libelous pamphlet or book, the business manager of a daily newspaper will also face charges for the defamation especially if he was proven to be the author of the content or article.  In fact, all people who have active participation in the publication where the libelous article is found will be held liable as well.

There are four elements of libel such as:

  1. The imputation must be malicious;
  2. The imputation must be defamatory;
  3. The imputation must be made publicly; and
  4. The offended party must be identifiable.

Retraction and the Action for Libel

There are exceptions to the presumption of malice in libel, and these are: (a) absolute privilege; and (b) qualified privilege.

A communication is “absolutely privileged” when it is not actionable even if it was malicious. This includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their legislative functions, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations in pleadings and motions in judicial proceedings, as well as by witnesses in reply to questions propounded to them (Orfanel v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. L-26877, December 26, 1969).

On the other hand, communication is “qualifiedly privileged” when a statement, even if containing defamatory imputations, is not actionable unless made with malice and in bad faith. This includes a private communication made by a person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty, or a fair and true report made in good faith without comments or remarks of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings that are not of a confidential nature (Article 354).

Truth, while it must still be proven, is an absolute defense to libel. In many cases involving media defendants the burden is actually on the person suing – not on the publication – to prove the falsity of specific statements.

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