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Legal Matters

Avoiding Defamation


Call persons being investigated and give them an opportunity to explain their point of view and answer charges. If a target of an investigation refuses to be interviewed, send a certified return-receipt letter stating the major allegations you intend to make, and asking for any corrections or clarification. Ask for a verbal or written response by a specific date.

Include quotes or summaries from serious responses in the published text. It is harder to win a defamation action if the person complaining was given a chance to correct the reord.

Take threats of lawsuits seriously, but if you are sure of your facts, have given the person a chance to respond, and believe it is an important story, then proceed cautiously.

The Associated Press stylebook includes a libel manual in its back pages.



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