According to the New York Observer, major US publishers have seen a steady decrease in libel suits against their titles – grinding to a halt entirely, according to lawyers for the New York Times Co. and Time Inc. A recent US study suggests that the number of libel trials in America in the 2000s was 50 per cent less than in the 1980s.
But why, and what does this mean for freedom of expression and publishers’ freedoms?
Media lawyers have a few theories to explain the rapid decline. A track record of limited success for plaintiffs discourages people from filing such cases-clearly a good for media organizations. In addition, the web has allowed for quick corrections, heading lawsuits off before they are even filed. Some individuals now even post their own responses on the Web, allowing them to vent steam before heading to court.
On the darker side, some media pros wonder whether the declining finances of media companies may be limiting the type of journalism that used to anger subjects and produce libel suits.