Political speech has been called the "life-breath of democracy" by the US Supreme Court and receives very strong First Amendment protection. For that reason, the FCC has said that it will "not attempt to judge the truth or falsity of material broadcast regarding candidates or ballot issues." That principle is sure to be tested in the wave of negative campaign ads we are likely to see between now and November, many of which will generate "cease and desist" letters from the subjects of those negative ads. Of course, broadcasters and cable operators alike are immune from liability for anything said in the context of a candidate "use" featuring a sponsoring candidate's recognizable voice or image...the so-called "no censorship" rule.
There is, however, one type of political ad that could create potential liability for the media if allowed to run unchecked: A third party or PAC attack ad that is defamatory. A defamatory ad is one that exposes the candidate to public hatred, shame, disgrace or ridicule. Generally, these are ads that allege crime, fraud, dishonest or immoral conduct on the part of the candidate. Truth is the only absolute defense to a defamatory claim. Therefore, when defamation is alleged, substantiation should be requested. Read on for details of a recent case study....
An opinion released several weeks ago by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sheds some light on whether statements made in the context of a third party political ad are defamatory. The ad at issue there was a negative campaign ad against a candidate for the Maine State Senate. The ad stated that the candidate, as a town selectman (equivalent to city council) "voted to cancel the $10,000 fireworks celebration for the Fourth of July," while also "[giving] 10,000 taxpayer dollars to a political organization." The ad then stated that "It's wrong for [the candidate] to give your money to a political organization, and it was wrong for [him] to cancel your 4th of July celebration."
Please see full article below for more information.
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