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Beware Of "Tsismis" - Liable For Libel

What do Hollywood superstars Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise and the famous Filipina actress and television show host Kris Aquino have in common? All these showbiz icons were involved in sticky legal battles concerning libel.

Clint Eastwood settled a $14.4 million libel lawsuit filed against a writer and the publisher of an unauthorized biography that portrayed him as a "wife beater". Tom Cruise accepted an undisclosed six-figure libel settlement for an offensive article published that alleged that his marriage to actress Nicole Kidman was a cover-up for his being bakla.

In the Philippines, the Ms. Kris Aquino filed a P80 million libel suit against GMA-7, one of the leading television networks. As publicized, the suit stemmed from an e-mail column feed traceable to a manager of GMA Network's Publicity Unit which criticized Aquino for, amongst other things, not "acting her age and that she deserved to acquire STD because of her constant affairs with married men." The case is now pending at the Makati Regional Trial Court.

Ms. Aquino is obviously a prominent personality in the Philippines and anything about her is rightfully considered news-worthy. However, there is a thin line between aggressive hard-hitting journalism and purely malicious tsismis.

Newspapers are replete with stories of people's reputations destroyed by unrelenting media attacks. It is extremely difficult to rebut defamatory statements made in print or television since one can only be on the defensive about it and the more you talk about the issue, the bigger the story gets. Unfortunately, one can only turn to our defamation law that doesn't necessarily provide a satisfactory remedy. Obviously, apologies are usually issued too late to restore one's reputation.

Generally speaking, the concept of defamation pertains to an injury to the reputation or character of the victim resulting from the false statements or actions of another. Defamation is therefore an attack on your good name through either libel or slander. While "libel" connotes visual defamation, usually in the form of lies in print, or misleading or deceptive photographs, "slander", on the other hand, describes defamation that you hear, usually in the form of someone spreading or repeating unfounded lies about you. The person who originally spreads the gossip can be found liable.

A legal claim based on defamation entitles the victim to recover against the defamer for his or her emotional damages. In addition, the victim will be entitled to sue for punitive damages. The best part is that, you do not need to prove damages in defamation cases if you are a public figure-someone who is known to the local or international community based upon their prior activities. Instead, damages are presumed. Meaning: the law assumes that the defamed person was damaged simply because they are a public figure.

So next time, be careful of what you think is harmless "tsismis" or lunch room gossip. It can not only injure the person you are talking about, but can injure you as well. Before you know it, you might be facing a lawsuit. With public figures, like your boss perhaps, damages are presumed. On the other hand, if you are the victim, know that you can file a complaint, regardless of your immigration status.

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