Trump is a Pinoy when it comes to libel

The “Donald” sued and lost, according to a Bloomberg report. donaldtrump-sized

As a public figure, Trump was told by a New Jersey Judge that he, Trump, had the burden of proving malice when he sued a book author for libel.  The author allegedly defamed Trump because the  book stated that Trump’s net worth was in the millions (US dollars), while Trump claimed that he was worth more than $5 billion.  Trump apparently sued so he could present evidence of his true net worth, and claimed victory as regards this question of fact.

But of course the libel suit was dismissed.  The Judge knew her libel law.  Truth is not a friend of the plaintiff, and neither does falsehood spell liability for the defendant.  The lesson from the cited landmark case, NY Times v Sullivan, is that a libel suit by a public figure is one where the public figure has the burden of proving malice.  And proving such was not what the Donald did.

In the Philippines, the penal code states that proof of the truth is inadmissible if the alleged libel does not involve an imputation of a crime (Art. 361, Revised Penal Code).  Accordingly, the same decision would be made by a Philippine court, since by law the truth is immaterial, and in a poor country, certainly, being poor cannot be a crime.

The Judge also held that negligence (whether simple or gross) by a reporter does not amount to actual malice.  Black’s defines actual malice as “knowledge (by the defendant in a libel suit) that a statement is false, or reckless disregard of whether the statement is true.”  Negligence, on the other hand, is defined as “failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised.”  It is therefore possible to be negligent without committing libel.

In the Philippines, libel suits are filed by celebrities, i.e., by public figures.   In an earlier post, I cited the case of a columnist who was threatened with a libel suit by a public figure who belonged to the religious community.  The columnist had a “creative” approach to defusing the case.  He declared the alleged libelous statement as “anathema.”

Hat tip to Jonathan Turley for reporting on Trump’s case.  Trump caricature courtesy of Ismael Roldan.

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