Can Snoopy commit libel?

Silly question.  Of course.  He is guilty if all of the following can be proved (or if presumed, not refuted):

1.  He makes a defamatory statement, which is an “imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead” (Art. 353, RPC).  For example, Snoopy cannot be guilty if his statement is about another dog who is still alive. But he can be guilty if he defames Hitler. Go figure.

2.  The defamatory statement is made public (Art. 353).  Making public means communicating it to a third person, i.e., any person other than the complainant and the accused.  Never mind that the accused is a dog.

3.  The statement is malicious (Art. 353, RPC). Note that there is a presumption in law with respect to malice in libel.  Every defamatory statement made is presumed malicious subject to a few exceptions (Art. 354).  In general, the exception to this presumption is when it is shown that there is good intention or justifiable motive.  Among the particular exceptions is when the communication is “private” and “in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty.”  There is case law that says that religious duty cannot get the accused an exemption.  Another is when it is a fair and true report of acts of public officers in the exercise of their functions.  The most important exception is from case law: when it is “fair comment” (Borjal v. CA, 1999).  But actual malice, when proved, negatives good intention or justifiable motive.

4.  The complainant must be identifiable by third persons (Borjal v CA; Kunkle v Cablenews-American, 42 Phil. 757).   There is no such thing as “group libel” in the Philippines; where the article is impersonal on its face and interpretation of its language does not single out individuals, libel does not exist (Uy Tioco et al v. Yang Shu Wen et al, 32 Phil 624).

What is Snoopy’s defense? He is just a dog, a cuddly one at that.

****

MNEMONIC for bar exam: MPDI – malicious public defamation of an identifiable.

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5 thoughts on “Can Snoopy commit libel?

    1. A common “trick” to avoid libel by gossip columnists is the “blind item.” It is not clear from the story who exactly is the one talked about. If someone comes forward and says “that’s me,” it doesn’t count. There is case law, but I can’t remember just now.

      UPDATE: The case is Borjal.

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