Slander and libel are two types of defamation. A person can be defamed either through oral or written words. When defamation happens through written words, it is called libel. When defamation is through verbal statements or gestures, it is called slander. Slander includes unprivileged and false verbal statement that is not in print. Slander is temporary in nature, whereas libel is permanent in nature.
Only certain types of slanderous statements are actionable. Examples of statements actionable per se are: statements imputing loathsome disease, immoral character, crime, occupational or professional incapacity. A statement that is merely an expression of opinion is not actionable. Generally, the plaintiff will have to prove beyond doubt that the statement was false and injurious to his/her reputation. To bring an action for slander, the plaintiff should be able to prove that the statement was:
- Published to third party,
- referred to the plaintiff,
- defamatory to the plaintiff,
- false, and
- the defendant is at false, and
- if the statement is of public interest then the plaintiff should prove negligence on the publisher’s part.
Both punitive and compensatory damages can be granted in successful slander cases. The main defense available in a slander case is that the statements were true. If the defendant proves that the alleged defamatory statement is true s/he will not be liable for damages. Additionally, if slanderous statements were made by legislative or executive officers while in course of office or judicial officers during court proceedings, no action can be taken against the defendant even if the statement was false.
Like Media libel cases, slander cases are also common among celebrities and public personnel. When a celebrity brings an action for slander, s/he will have to prove ‘actual malice’. This element was introduced by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case named New York Times v. Sullivan (1965). In this case the Supreme Court held that when celebrities or public personnel filed defamation cases they should make a showing that the statement was made with actual malice. The public figure should prove that the defendant made the statement knowing it to be false and made it recklessly with disregard to its truthfulness. The inability of the public figure to prove actual malice will make him/her loose the case.
A public personal in the current context is not just media persons, politicians, or high officials; it also includes two other categories of individuals such as: limited public figure, and involuntary public figure. Limited public figure will include common man engaged in an activity of public interest. Example: participants of reality shows like American Idol. Involuntary public figure will include people who did not actually want publicity but circumstance dragged them into publicity. Example: A person accused in high profile crimes who was later found innocent. Both limited public figure and involuntary public figure will have to prove actual malice in defamation cases.