Georgia Defamation of Character Laws

By Christopher Herhalt
Georgia, wire news pieces, a publisher's responsibility, letters

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The Georgia Code defines defamation as any false statement about the plaintiff, communication of the defamatory statement to a third party without special permission from the plaintiff, fault on the part of the defendant in allowing the statement to be published (at least negligence) and a measurable amount of harm done to the plaintiff by the statement in question. Defamation law in Georgia is similar to laws in other states, until it comes to the statutory defenses available to defendants. Two of the established defenses found in many other states have not yet been mentioned or codified in Georgia.

Defamation Per Se

To allege that someone has committed a crime, contracted a social disease, participated in heinous acts, is substandard in their profession or commits adultery is "defamation per se" in the Georgia Code. Allegations of this nature are always considered defamatory, whether or not they were made with malice.

Types of Public Figures

The Georgia Code includes provisions for public figures and "limited-purpose" public figures. Public figures include celebrities, professional athletes, heads of large corporations, elected officials and some high-ranking civil servants. To be considered a limited purpose public figure, the court must determine what is at the root of a public controversy, examine the plaintiff's involvement in the controversy and see whether the alleged defamation is at all related to the plaintiff's participation in the controversy. These rules emerged after Atlanta security officer Richard Jewell was alleged to have planted a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. He was found innocent later, and sued area newspapers for claiming he had committed such a heinous act.

Malice and Negligence

In the Georgia Code, malice is defined as "ill-will, hatred or charges calculated to injure." Negligence relates to the amount of care given to confirming the truthfulness of defamatory claims. All types of public figures must prove actual malice on the part of the defendant. Private figures only need to prove negligence.

Defenses

Communicators in the state of Georgia are afforded defenses for truth, "fair" reports of the legislature and court proceedings and comments based substantially on fact. However, they are given no privileges regarding verifying the validity of reports from wire services. Also, it is unclear whether matters of important public interest are afforded any privilege if they are deemed to be true and valid.

Considerations

Only living people can sue for defamation in Georgia. The estate of a deceased person cannot sue for defamation. The statute of limitations for defamation in the state of Georgia is one year.

About the Author

Christopher Herhalt has been writing for print and web since 2008. He has been published in "The Charlatan" newspaper of Ottawa and "The Tehran Times" of Tehran, Iran. Herhalt received the Carleton University School of Journalism's K. Phyllis Wilson Award for excellence after his first year of study. He is enrolled in the Honors Bachelor of Journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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