Master's Theses

Date of Award

Fall 1986

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Communication Studies

Advisor

James Costigan

Abstract

The intent of this study was to determine whether right of reply could be used to restore an injured reputation without the lengthy and costly process of litigation. Right of reply was defined as an opportunity to respond to a defamatory report or remarks carried in a newspaper. The reply opportunity would be printed by the newspaper and accorded a comparable amount of space, placement, and size of type as the original material. Telephone interviews of 50 subjects nationwide comprised the methodology. The subjects were drawn from newspaper and media-related industries, including small weekly newspapers, major metropolitan newspapers, and media law. While no single consensus dominated the results, right of reply was endorsed by a majority of the respondents as a voluntary concept. Most of the subjects felt a reply opportunity would redress reputation without litigation. Several said it probably would prevent some libel actions, particularly since most people, according to one study, sue to restore their names. Fairness and responsibility were also cited as reasons for offering a right of reply. In addition, a majority of the respondents agreed that a defendant who offered the plaintiff a reply opportunity would appear more responsible and sincere in the eyes of the jury than one who had not. A “reply block” was suggested in the study as one possible method of administering right of reply. Similar to correction boxes in design, a reply block would be anchored in one location and appear with regularity. It would be open to all readers with legitimate complaints, and it would be used at the discretion of the editor. An analysis of the study concluded that right of reply, however administered, promotes robust public debate and the tenets of free expression. Unlike the libel process, which tends to stifle expression, right of reply allows all sides to be heard and truth to be given fair play.

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Copyright 1986 Matt Bosisio

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