In a world where journalists feel the need to protect their work, it’s hard to do so when people cry libel when they don’t know what it means.
During a speech in Texas, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump announced he wanted to open up libel laws so it would be easier to sue news organizations and journalists for writing “purposely negative and horrible and false articles.”
Wait. Isn’t that like trying to sue the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America?
Well, Mr. Trump, we feel as though you don’t quite understand what libel is or what the duties of a journalist are. And, don’t worry, it’s not just you, so let us explain.
There is a difference between trying to sue a journalist for libel because he or she said something false and inaccurate and trying to sue a journalist because he or she said something you don’t like.
Libel is a false statement that is published and can damage a person’s reputation. The best defense to libel is truth. Truth is the reason why professional journalists strive to be objective.
We’ll admit, being 100 percent objective is not always possible, and journalists do make mistakes. But pointing out the mistakes of people who put themselves in the spotlight and say absurd statements is not the same as libel.
Not all journalists have good intentions, but there are journalists who do. For instance, the media may have been too extreme when comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler. But what good are we if we’re busy in courtrooms trying to defend our work instead of in the field working on the stories that need to be told?
There are reasons why libel laws exist and why they protect the public. If those laws become more strict, it puts journalists under fire, takes away our agency, and makes us unable to do our job. We may not have been able to cover important issues in society like the shooting in Ferguson or the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California.
We shouldn’t be scared to write a story because we’re afraid we’ll be sued for libel. That’s going to give U.S. citizens nothing but fluff stories. Stories about diets that work, musical festivals you should go to, or hometown parades are nice, but those stories just help even out a publication. However, journalists are here to disseminate all information, not just the pleasant stuff.
We need to talk about and bring light to the things people don’t like. And, oftentimes, those issues turn into the best stories.
It is not our job to baby our sources and make sure every single presidential candidate looks and sounds good. Just like we have the freedom of the press, people have the freedom to say what they want as long as it is true. And if what is said makes themselves look bad, then that’s their problem.