Truth in libel – two bar exam questions and suggested answers

And consequences..

When is truth a sufficient defense in libel?

Truth is sufficient defense when the accused has good motives and justifiable ends, and the imputation is that of a crime or is with respect to the official duty of a government employee.  Art. 361, Revised Penal Code.

Note that when the imputation is not that of a crime, proof of truth is inadmissible.  It seems that the proper defenses here are to refute malice in law, or to claim fair commentary which requires the prosecution to prove actual malice.

When is proof of truth not necessary?

–          when the law says it is inadmissible, as in a case where the complainant is a private figure and the imputation is not that of a crime (Art. 361, para. 2); in this case, the “truth” that must be proven by the accused is not the imputation (or the truth of the defamatory statement) but the absence of malice on his part (Art. 354);

–           when the matter is defamatory but is nonetheless fair commentary directed at a public figure; here the defamatory statement is either false or opinion but it was formed with reasonable degree of care and on reasonable grounds (US v Sedano, 1909; NY Times vs Sullivan, as cited in Borjal v CA);

–           when the matter is defamatory and directed at a private figure, but the defamation is on matters of public interest; here, the private figure has become a public figure (Borjal case).

Notes:

Excerpt from Borjal:

“But even assuming ex-gratia argumenti that private respondent, despite the position he occupied in the FNCLT, would not qualify as a public figure, it does not necessarily follow that he could not validly be the subject of a public comment even if he was not a public official or at least a public figure, for he could be, as long as he was involved in a public issue. If a matter is a subject of public or general interest, it cannot suddenly become less so merely because a private individual is involved or because in some sense the individual did not voluntarily choose to become involved. The public’s primary interest is in the event; the public focus is on the conduct of the participant and the content, effect and significance of the conduct, not the participant’s prior anonymity or notoriety.” [From Rosenbloom v Metromedia, 403 US 296].

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