Almost 50 years ago, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., writing for the Supreme Court, expressed “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
Tomorrow, the UNC First Amendment Law Review will bring together media law experts to reflect on and debate just how free the press has been to cover and criticize public officials since the landmark ruling in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which established the “actual malice” test. Under the test, a public official suing for libel must prove that defamatory content was published with “knowledge of falsity” or “reckless disregard for the truth.”
As a result of “New York Times Actual Malice,” the press and the public are free to criticize government officials’ and public figures’ job performance, scrutinize their personal lives, and even attack their character.
Some think the Court went too far when it held that falsity was not enough to make a speaker liable for defaming a public official. Others say it hasn’t gone far enough and should protect the publication of any false content when reporting on matters of public controversy.
The First Amendment Law Review Symposium will consist of two panels of First Amendment and media law scholars including:
- Vincent Blasi, Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties at Columbia Law School
- Bruce Brown, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- Ronald Cass, Dean Emeritus of Boston University School of Law
- Stuart Benjamin, Douglas B. Maggs Chair in Law at Duke Law
- George Wright, Michael McCormick Professor of Law at Indiana University
- Ashley Messenger, Associate General Counsel for National Public Radio
The event will begin with a keynote address from Ken Paulson, President and CEO of the First Amendment Law Center, followed by a 30 minute Q&A. The morning panel will then examine the impact of the Sullivan decision on the media, while the afternoon panel will discuss its broader implications on First Amendment jurisprudence.
Visit the event page for more information.