The law of defamation is not new to the world, nor limited to certain nations: Moses commanded: "Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour." The Far East punished slander. The Twelve Tables of Rome recognized defamation. Early Anglo- Saxon and Germanic laws took a serious view of insult by word or gesture. Punishment included excision of the tongue. In England, a book on libel was written three hundred years ago. Under a French ordinance of the past century the publication of a libel was punished by whipping and on a second offence with death. ' Obviously, the consequences -have changed over the years, but the basic responsibility is still present. The early development of the law of defamation dealt largely with slander, and with libel in a very limited context - mostly in relation to letters and other similar communications. The advent of the printing press and the rise of newspapers saw the law flourish and grow into the large body of doctrine that we know today. The advent of modem means of telecommunication brought the scope of that law to unthought of application in the modem world. This article will examine the nature of the medium and the application of the centuries old concepts of defamation to radio and television broadcasting. The article is by no means exhaustive, as to cover every aspect of defamation and its application to broadcasting would be a phenomenal task. Instead, several aspects of the law will be examined to see how the courts adapted the old concepts to the new medium and to point out any needed changes in the law. The relevant legislation in the area and the special problems arising in a federal state will be examined, namely the constitutional and conflict of laws problems.
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Keith R. Evans, “Defamation in Broadcasting” (1979) 5:3 DLJ 659.