Title 12, Section 1441 of the Oklahoma Statutes (Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 1441) define libel as:
[A] false or malicious unprivileged publication by writing, picture, or effigy or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to public hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy, or which tends to deprive him of public confidence, or to injure him in his occupation, or any malicious publication as aforesaid, designed to blacken or vilify the memory of one who is dead, and tending to scandalize his surviving relatives or friends.
Title 12, Section 1442 of the Oklahoma Statutes (Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 1442) define slander as:
Slander is a false and unprivileged publication, other than libel, which:
- Charges any person with crime, or with having been indicted, convicted or punished for crime.
- Imputes in him the present existence of an infectious, contagious or loathsome disease.
- Tends directly to injure him in respect to his office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to him general disqualification in those respects which the office or other occupation peculiarly requires, or by imputing something with reference to his office, profession, trade or business that has a natural tendency to lessen its profit.
- Imputes to him impotence or want of chastity; or,
- Which, by natural consequences, causes actual damage.
What is a “privileged publication” Under Oklahoma Defamation Law?
“Privilege” is an acceptable defense under Oklahoma defamation statutes. So, what, according to the OK Legislator constitutes “privilege” (as it relates to slander and libel cases)?
Excerpt (re-formatted) from Title 12, Section 1443.1 of the Oklahoma Statutes:
A privileged publication or communication is one made:
- In any legislative or judicial proceeding or any other proceeding authorized by law;
- In the proper discharge of an official duty;
- By a fair and true report of any legislative or judicial or other proceeding authorized by law, or anything said in the course thereof, and any and all expressions of opinion in regard thereto, and criticisms thereon, and any and all criticisms upon the official acts of any and all public officers, except where the matter stated of and concerning the official act done, or of the officer, falsely imputes crime to the officer so criticized.
In other words: defamation defendants can argue privilege if the statement in question was published or spoken:
- During a trial or other legal interaction;
- If the defendant’s professional responsibilities supersedes defamatory parameters (i.e., a doctor who is required to report certain suspicions).
- When reporting on an event and stating an opinion, except in cases involving accusations of criminality on the part of “public officers.” Note: This doesn’t mean public officers get a free pass, but instead that defendants can’t 100% hide behind privilege if criminal accusations lobbed against “public officers” turn out to be false.
Good Faith In Publishing
Excerpt (re-formatted) from Title 12, Section 1446.a of the Oklahoma Statutes:
In an action for damages for the publication of a libel in a newspaper or periodical, if the evidence shows that the article was published in good faith and that its falsity was due to an honest mistake of the facts, and the question of “honest mistake” shall be a question of fact to be determined by a jury, unless a jury be waived by the parties, the plaintiff shall be entitled to recover actual damages only unless a retraction be requested and refused as hereinafter provided.
In other words: If the jury decides that the statement in question was an honest mistake, not an intentional slight, then the plaintiff can only collect actual damages, unless otherwise instructed by the judge.
Threats to Publish Libelous and Defamatory Material
If a person or news agency threatens in writing to publish potentially defamatory material, Oklahoma state law treats threats it as actually publishing the defamatory material. However, if a threat to publish libelous material is made verbally, the plaintiff must prove have proof that at least one witness presenting corroborating circumstances.
Thanks to a nationwide network of attorneys, Kelly / Warner can often handle Oklahoma defamation cases. Get in touch today.