Slander Laws: Why Do News Outlets Use Words Like “Allegedly”?

Recorded on September 1, 2020

When reporting on a crime, why do journalists use words like “allegedly” or “accused”? Attorney Ben Barry of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP is on the radio with WIZN explaining slander and defamation laws.

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Joe: Hey, this Joe Vega and I got my friend Ben Barry from Martin Harding & Mazzotti on the phone right now. Hello, Ben.

Ben: Hello, Joe.

Joe: So a friend of mine asked me the other day why we in the media when we’re reporting on a crime or something that happened, we use terms like allegedly. And I kind of know the answer, but I thought this would be a good time for you to come on and explain slander laws for us.

Ben: Sure. Well, generally speaking, if you’re talking about a news agency and the reporting on a crime or they’re reporting on a current event, they generally will use language that is tentative in nature so that they can insulate themselves from liability for something like defamation. Defamation is a false statement that’s purported to be fact, it’s communicated to a third party, and the falsity of that reaches a negligent standard.

So without all the legal terminology, it’s somebody saying or writing something that’s false, and they should have known it was false. So they will use allegedly in a criminal setting because until it’s proven, they can’t report it as being fact or factual. It’s just allegedly. It insulates them from some lawsuit. So really, it’s a situation where papers want to insulate themselves from these lawsuits. And definitely in criminal cases, newspapers and media outlets are sensitive to the requirements of the court that the person be given a fair trial.

You know, you can’t impanel a jury because everybody knows everything about, you know, like Laci Peterson. That was something where we’re like, “Look, this is a trial by media, guilty before he’s even in. O.J. Simpson, same thing, you can’t impanel a jury that doesn’t know anything about the case or hasn’t been influenced by the media or things that were reported accurately or inaccurately. And so it raises this issue of not being able to have a fair trial. So with criminal stuff, I think newspapers are sensitive to that. They definitely don’t want to be responsible for libel, which is written publication of something that’s false. That’s really where the allegedly or tentative language comes from.

Joe: Okay. Thanks, Ben.

Ben: Thank you, Joe.

Joe: Remember you can call Ben and the fine lawyers at Martin, Harding & Mazzotti at any time at 1800law1010 or go online to

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