The following questions came from the Rensselaer Republican:
Q: An advertiser wants to run a full-page ad for an estate sale with lots of pictures. A large heading reads, “24 years, 2 months and 3 days of lies, and it all has to go.” (A contentious divorce is implied.)
The remainder of the ad just lists the date, time and place of the sale. Is there any liability in running this ad?
A: The location means the “accused” spouse could be identified by where he or she lived. The implication of lies could be infidelity, which is libelous per se.
I recommend the editorial comment not be included in the advertisement.
There’s no benefit to the newspaper in including it, and there is a risk of being named as a defendant in a libel lawsuit by including it.
Since we’re talking about a non-news situation, the court might not decide to require malice as an element for the plaintiff to show to win a lawsuit. That means it would be easier for the plaintiff to get a jury verdict against you.
Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 624-4427.