California news media defamation damages and actual malice | LegaMart

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QuestionApr 11, 2021 - 20:38

California news media defamation damages and actual malice

Section 48a of the California Civil Code concerns libels in news media. It provides that: "(a) In any action for damages for the publication of a libel in a daily or weekly news publication, or of a slander by radio broadcast, the plaintiff shall only recover special damages unless a correction is demanded and is not published or broadcast, as provided in this section." (b) If a correction is demanded within 20 days and is not published or broadcast in substantially as conspicuous a manner in the same daily or weekly news publication, or on the same broadcasting station as were the statements claimed to be libelous, in a regular issue thereof published or broadcast within three weeks after service, plaintiff, if he or she pleads and proves notice, demand, and failure to correct, and if his or her cause of action is maintained, may recover general, special, and exemplary damages. Exemplary damages shall not be recovered unless the plaintiff proves that the defendant made the publication or broadcast with actual malice and then only at the discretion of the court or jury, and actual malice shall not be inferred or presumed from the publication or broadcast. ... (d)(4) “Actual malice” means that state of mind arising from hatred or ill will toward the plaintiff; provided, however, that a state of mind occasioned by a good faith belief on the part of the defendant in the truth of the libelous publication or broadcast at the time it is published or broadcast shall not constitute actual malice." It appears to me that a qualified news publication or radio broadcast shall publish libels or slanders with "actual malice" and escape general and exemplary damages so long as it satisfies the requirements in Subsection (b). What could be the rationale behind this? Can a qualified news publication or radio broadcast exploit this by carefully crafting libels or slanders that do not cause special damages?

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