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Editorial

Today’s Yellow Press – The Limits of Slander

February 11, 2021

The ‘yellow press,’ misinformation for the purpose of economic or political gain or simply to defame an opponent, is not a recent invention.

It is as old as the printing press itself. But because freedom of the press is protected by the Constitution – the first Amendment – as necessary for the progress of a society, for the better governance of the country, tackling defamation by the media is, and rightly so, a very difficult case to advance in court.

"Without debate, without criticism no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive,” said John F. Kennedy.

Lincoln had spoken similar words before him.

The free press is therefore properly protected. But there must also be limits, no? Of course there should be, and I say that as a man with long journalistic service.

Nowadays the degree of misinformation is unprecedented.

This is due to the proliferation of social media, where anyone can build a basic website or blog, christen themselves a journalist, start slandering anyone they are paid to attack and/or say whatever serves their sick psychological needs.

Misinformation, the brazen lie, has established itself as an acceptable way of attacking an opponent, regardless of whether the accusations are true or not.

And this is even done by some of the big American outfits, as well some of the Athenian media.

So how is this situation addressed?

How can an individual or a company protect itself from defamation without harming the good of the press? Without the media being afraid to do their job, to criticize, because of threat of retaliation?

We must ask two key questions:

First, does the 'reporting' defame someone with malice – that is, with full knowledge that the criticism is based on falsehoods?

And, second, should slander be tolerated to a certain extent?

Recently, Rupert Murdoch's Fox Business news channel suddenly fired Lou Dobbs, without even giving him a chance to say goodbye to his audience. The next day, someone else presented his program.

It is worth noting that this program dominated the audience in the evening time slots. And yet, they literally threw its long-time host onto the street.

What happened?

Smartmatic, a company which specializes in vote counting devices and processes, filed a lawsuit against Fox Business, Dobbs, and two other presenters, seeking the astronomical sum of $2.7 billion in compensation for the damage they did to the company and their reputation.

Last month, John Poulos' Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump's lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, for the same reason.

So it seems that lawsuits are, unfortunately, the only way to put checks on the media, when other attempts to restore the truth and protect the reputation of individuals fail.

On the other hand, there is concern that big companies and wealthy individuals may use lawsuits as a way to silence their critics.

The courts are able to distinguish, however, between the rich who want to silence a critic and the rich who are wrongly accused and want to defend their reputation.

A billionaire, Peter Thiel, paid the legal costs of someone who could not afford to sue a specific gossip site for defamation. The court fined the site so heavily that it was forced to file for bankruptcy.

The change in the perception of attempts at defamation, both in society and in the courts, is due to the audacity with which lies are used to defame antagonists.

It is about time. Ultimately, these measures provide justice to people who are slandered.

At the same time, however, they also protect the credibility of reputable media.

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