The Difference Between Defamation, Libel and Slander

Defamation, libel and slander are all terms that are similar and often confused.

Defamation is defined as the issuance of a false statement about another person which causes that person to suffer harm. Slander meanwhile involves the making of defamatory statements by a transitory (non-fixed) representation, usually an oral representation. Last, Libel involves the making of defamatory statements in a printed or fixed medium such as a magazine or newspaper.

Defamation can also be extended to a business, product, group, government or nation.

While one has freedom of speech, most jurisdictions allow individuals, businesses, and such to take legal actions, civil and/or criminal, to deter various kinds of defamation and retaliate against groundless criticism. Defining defamation from public opinion, the law often sees public disclosure of private facts, which arises where one person reveals information that is not of public concern to be a part of defamation. Unlike with libel, truth is not a defense for invasion of privacy.

Slander is a form of defamation. The primary difference between slander and libel lies solely in the form in which the defamatory matter is published. If the offending material is only spoken or gestured, then it is slander. When it is printed with words or pictures, it then becomes libel. Slander is more like a serious rumor involving false statements while libel is committed to paper.

The difficulty with slander and libel issues is proving it to have taken place. When proving that libel has taken place, the offended person must prove the statements made against them were false. Second, they must prove that the statement caused harm. And last, they must prove that the statement was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. Such steps are typical for an ordinary citizen, while in the case of a public official or celebrity, an additional step is added in that they must also prove that the statement was made with the intent to do harm.

The most common type of libel that takes place is reporter vs. public official or individual. In such cases, there are several common defenses a reporter takes against a libel lawsuit. The first is showing truth. The reporter must show that any statement they make against another’s reputation shows truth. Reporters will use official proceedings, reports, council minutes and other official proceedings to demonstrate their point. Last reporters will often claim Fair Comment and Criticism. This defense covers the expressions of opinion in everything from movie reviews to columns. Under this defense, a reporter can express opinions that can be very scathing or critical and border on defamation or libelous.

To defend oneself in a libel lawsuit an individual must prove the information completely libelous. For public officials, this is more difficult. Public officials must not only prove the article was libelous and published but that it was done with malice. Malice in this situation means published with the knowledge that it was false and with reckless disregard whether or not it was false.

In the end, truth is the only absolute defense to a defamation claim. But keep in mind that the truth may be difficult and expensive to prove.

Steven Medvin is the Executive Director of SMP Advance Funding, LLC, which provides lawsuit funding to individuals who need a lawsuit loan for pending lawsuits. For more information please visit:

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