Defenses in Libel
OCT 29, 2022 12:01 AM
IN my previous article, I mentioned that the crime of cyber libel is libel punishable under the Revised Penal Code. The crime becomes cyber libel if a computer or the internet or information and communication technologies are used.
The person defamed must be identifiable, whether by name or obvious descriptions.
There must also be publication. Publication means "to make public; to make known to people in general; to bring before the public." Specifically, publication in the law of libel means the defamation must be made known to another person other than the victim of the libel. If the description is so general that the victim cannot be identified or there is no publication, then the libel charge will be dismissed.
Is the truth of a defamatory statement a defense in libel?
Truth per se is not a defense in libel. Unless it is shown that the matter charged as libelous was made with good motives and for justifiable ends, only then can truth be a defense against libel.
If in a newspaper article a private individual is called a monkey, the slanderer, i.e., the accused cannot use truth as a defense during the trial because there cannot be good motives and justifiable ends if one calls a person a monkey.
Proof of the truth of an imputation of an act or omission not constituting a crime shall not be admitted, unless the imputation shall have been made against government employees with respect to facts related to the discharge of their official duties. In such cases, if the accused proves the truth of the imputation made by him, he shall be acquitted.
For example, if a female government employee is described as a loose woman who has had children by different men, proof of truth of multiple paternity cannot be raised as a defense because the imputation although defamatory is not a crime and would not in any way affect her work in the government. However, when a government cashier is called a compulsive gambler then proof of truth as a defense may be admitted because it can be argued that a person charged with keeping government funds should not be a gambler.
Malice indicates that the offender is prompted by personal ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty but merely to injure the reputation of one who is defamed and implies an intention to do ulterior and unjustifiable harm. Malice is bad faith or bad motive. It is the essence of the crime of libel besides the defamatory imputations. Malice offers no justification why a person's good name should be destroyed.
Our libel law recognizes two kinds of malice. The first is malice in law and the other is malice in fact. The law states that every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious. This is malice in law. Since malice in law is presumed, all that the complainant or the State must do is to present the defamatory article and the other elements of libel and conviction will follow. The complainant need not prove malice anymore because of this legal inference.
Malice in fact is the particular intent of the offender to cast dishonor, discredit or contempt on the person defamed or libeled; it is also called actual malice.
Absolutely privileged communications
In all criminal prosecutions for libel, is malice presumed? Yes, except in cases involving absolutely privileged communications and conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications. In absolutely privileged communications, one cannot sue, even if the statements are libelous.
Words are said to be absolutely privileged when these are not actionable, even if the author has acted in bad faith. The existence of malice may stare the law in the face, but the law turns a blind eye. Absolutely privileged communications include statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions as such, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations or statements made by the parties or their counsel in their pleadings or motions or during the hearing of judicial proceedings, as well as the answers given by witnesses in reply to questions given in the proceedings.
Statements made in Congress as a matter of public policy are absolutely privileged communications because lawmakers should be untethered enough to engage in free-wheeling discussions when making laws.
Official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties are also absolutely privileged communications. Therefore, if a policeman reports to his superior that a certain X is a rapist, swindler and a known drug lord in his neighborhood, he cannot be sued on the basis of his report because it is an absolutely privileged communication.
Statements made during legal proceedings are absolutely privileged communications and therefore, the judge, lawyer or the witness who made the defamatory statement cannot be sued for libel.
The condition to be absolutely privileged is that the defamatory imputation is relevant, pertinent or material to the cause in hand or subject of the inquiry.
To be continued on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022
My son, Atty. Daniel Soriano Hofileña, helped me in the preparation of this article.
Article taken from ManilaTimes.Net