Saturday, December 02, 2006

Philadelphia Newspapers Inc v Hepps

Another significant decision handed down by the United States was Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.v Hepps.
The Supreme Court made it clear that a lesser standard is demanded for private individual plainitffs suing for defamation cases involving matters of public concern.
Private individual plaintiffs need to establish only falsity, and not actual malice i.e. knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth.

Here is the digest of that case I made:

Where a newspaper publishes matters of public concern, a private figure plaintiff cannot recover without showing the statements at issue are false.

Philippine Newspapers Inc versus Maurice Hepps
475 US 767 (1986)

Maurice Hepps is the principal stockholder of a corporation that franchises a chain of stores --- selling beer softdrinks, and snacks--- called “Thirfty Stores.” Hepps and a number of franchisees are the appellees. The Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. owns the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer published a series of articles alleging that appellees had links to organized crime and used some of those links to influence the States governmental process. The nature of these articles was exemplified in one headline which read: “How Mazzei Used Pull, Kept Beer Chain Intact.” The articles purported to link Maurice Hepps, General Programming Inc., and a number of independent corporate entities who operated beer and beverage distributorships as franchisees of General Programming, Inc. to certain ‘underworld’ figures and to organized crime.
The article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, referred to Senator Mazzei whose actions displayed a pattern of interference in state government by the legislator on behalf of Hepps and Thrifty. The articles reported that federal investigators has found connection between Thrifty and the underworld.
Hepps then brought defamation suit against the newspaper owner and authors of the articles. The state Supreme Court ruled in favfor of Hepps, and the Philadelphia Inquirer elevated to the Supreme Court.

What is the standard used in defamation cases initiated by private persons involving publications that deal with public interest?

Falsity Standard. The rule laid down by the Supreme Court is that at least where a newspaper publishes speech of public concern, a private-figure plaintiff cannot recover damages without also showing that the statements at issue are false.
It should be the plaintiff who shall “bear the burden of showing falsity, as well as fault, before he could recover damages.”
Common law principle a defamatory speech is presumed to be false and that the one who uttered injurious statements bears the burden of proving the truth (because victims are presumed innocent) has collapsed because it is now the victim who must prove falsity of the statements.
The Supreme court said that if the burden of proving truth is placed on the defendant who utters speech of public concern, free speech is deterred and a there will be a chilling effect. To avoid this chilling effect, the private person must bear the burden of proving falsity.

No comments: