In Ohio, as in most states, the general rules of defamation law are not statutory, but found in the state's common law. This means that the rules governing defamation are established not by the legislature using statute, but by the courts. There are, however, three Ohio statutes addressing defamation law. Two deal with separate aspects of the fair report privilege, while one sets the statute of limitations for defamation claims.
General Defamation Law
In Ohio, as elsewhere, defamation is a legal term meaning injury to a person's reputation or business due to the publication or dissemination of negative (defamatory) information about him. Defamation can be written (libel) or oral (slander). To be defamatory, a statement must not only be harmful, it must also be untrue. If the defamatory statement concerns private matters and individuals, the plaintiff in a defamation act must prove the statement was false. If, however, it concerns public matters or public figures, the defendant must prove the statement was true.
Ohio Rev. Code Section 2317.04
Section 2317.04 of the Ohio Revised Code establishes the fair report privilege for all accurate reports of proceedings of the legislative and executive branches of state and local governments, even if those proceedings contain or encompass otherwise defamatory material. This section also extends the privilege to the reproduction of any "bill, ordinance, report, resolution, bulletin, notice, petition or other document presented, filed or issued in such a proceeding." Only if the defendant acted with actual malice can the plaintiff overcome this privilege.
Ohio Rev. Code Section 2317.05
Section 2317.05 of the Ohio Revised Code also creates a fair report privilege, but this time with respect to the proceedings of the judicial branch. The privilege established by this section extends to accurate reports of civil and criminal court cases, including documents filed in such cases, indictments, arrests and warrants issued. To overcome this privilege, a plaintiff must show the defendant acted with actual malice, that he failed to also publish an explanation or contradiction submitted to him by the plaintiff, or that he failed to publish the ultimate outcome of the case, when requested to do so by the plaintiff.
Statute of Limitations
The Ohio statutes also address the statute of limitations for defamation actions. Under Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.11, the statute of limitations for defamation is one year. This means that if a plaintiff does not bring an action against the defendant for defamation within one year, unless an exception applies, the suit will be barred.