Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
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Closed Mixed Outcome
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The Supreme Court of Argentina reversed a conviction against an author accused of slander by a public official. Author Joaquín Morales Solá was first convicted of slandering Dante Giadone, a public official, after he made negative comments about Giadone in his book. The Court cited the principle of “actual malice” and reasoned that the right of the public to access information that is of general interest and the need for freedom of the press outweighed a public official’s right to honor. Moreover, the Court found that no harm had come to Giadone’s name or honor.
The case against Joaquín Morales Solá reached the Supreme Court of Argentina after an appellate court had overruled the previous judgment and convicted him on charges of slander. Charges were originally brought against him after Dante Giadone claimed that his name had been slandered by Morales Solá when he wrote negative comments about Giadone in a passage in his book.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court of Argentina made use of the “actual malice” doctrine to reverse Morales Solá’s slander conviction (the Court did not use this exact term, it merely employed the principle). The Court held that the protections geared toward maintaining the honor of public officials, as Giadone was at the time the facts were publicized, should be dimmed in favor of the right to information and freedom of expression in matters that address facts that are of public interest.
The Court also found that the burden of proof, which had been shifted to Morales Solá in earlier decisions, violated his presumption of innocence. The Court stated that the requirement of proving the accuracy of the facts alleged went against the right to information and freedom of expression. The burden of proving the damaging effect of the phrases published and the knowledge of the falseness, or the reckless disregard for whether the statements were true or not, should have been charged to the complainant.
The Court also declared that no harm had come to Giadone’s name or honor.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The Supreme Court of Argentina upheld its principle that in order for the interference with the right to freedom of expression to be justified in instances that implicate areas of public interest and involve the reputations of public officials, a higher standard is required.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The Supreme Court of Argentina decides cases on an individual basis, and its case law does not create binding precedents. However, the Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, and, as such, its decisions are highly persuasive.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.