Crime of libel

LAW EACH WEEK

What are the elements of the crime of libel?

For an action to be considered libel, there must be an imputation, 1) of a crime, a vice or defect (either real or imaginary) or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance; 2) made publicly; 3) maliciously; and 4) must be directed at a natural or juridical person, or one who is dead. (Article 353, Revised Penal Code)

What is the test for the defamatory words to constitute the crime of libel?

The test of the defamatory character of words used is whether they are calculated to induce the hearers to suppose and understand that the person against whom these defamatory words were uttered to was guilty of certain offenses or are sufficient to impeach his honesty, virtue, or to hold him up to public ridicule.

When is there publication in the commission of the crime of libel?

There is publication if the material is communicated to a third person. It is not required that the person defamed has read or heard about the libelous remark. What is material is that a third person has read or heard the libelous statement, for “a man’s reputation is the estimate in which others hold him in, not the good opinion which he has of himself.” (Alonzo v. Court of Appeals, 241 SCRA 51 (1995))

What is the standard of “malice” in the crime of libel?

There are two kinds of malice to consider in the crime of libel: 1) malice in fact and 2) malice in law. Malice in fact may be shown by proof of illwill, hatred or purpose to injure while malice in law is presumed itself from the defamatory imputation. However, when the communication is privileged, malice is not presumed from the defamatory words. Moreover, malice in law is not necessarily inconsistent with honest or laudable purpose. Even if the publication is injurious, the presumption of malice disappears upon proof of good intentions and justifiable motive. But where malice in fact is present, justifiable motive cannot exist, and the imputations become actionable.

Furthermore, for a statement to be considered malicious, it must be shown that it was written or published with the knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard on whether or not they were false.

What is meant by reckless disregard?

There is reckless disregard when a person who uttered the defamatory words entertains serious doubt as to the truth of the publication or that he possesses a high degree of awareness of their probable falsity.