Report No. 93
IV. Libel Actions
6.15. Libel actions (First Amendment applied).-
In libel suits, courts in U.S.A. have also refused (on First Amendment grounds) to order the disclosure of a defendant's confidential news sources, except in the unusual circumstances in which-(a) the plaintiff has demonstrated a substantial likelihood that disclosure will lead to persuasive evidences on the issue of liability, and (b) alternative sources have been exhausted.1
The Eighth Circuit,2 for example, has held that a Life Magazine reporter did not have to reveal the confidential source of allegedly libellous statements about the organized crime connections of a Mayor. In the above case, the Mayor was suing Life Magazine for libel. The Supreme Court declined to review this case and the decision of the Eighth Circuit was allowed to stand.3-4
1. See also para. 6.9, supra.
2. Corvantes v. Time, Inc 464 F 2nd 986 (8th Circuit), 1972 Cert. denied, (1973), 409 US 1125.
3. Howard Simons and Joseph A. Califani, Jr. (Ed.), The Media and the Law (1976), p. 16.
4. For other developments: see, Source Protebtion in Libel Suits after Herbert v. Lasdo, (March, 1981), 81 Colambia Law Rev, pp. 338-365.
6.16. Only one federal appellate court in U.S.A. has ordered a libel defendant to disclose the identity of a confidential news source. That case arose out of a Jack Anderson column reporting on the United Mine Workers and its general counsel, Edward Carey.1 The court emphasized that it was not establishing a general rule applicable to all libel defendants, but rather was limiting its decision to order disclosure to the extraordinary circumstances before it. The court ordered disclosure because the statement alleged to be libellous was based entirely on confidential sources and the plaintiff had no way of proving either falsity or recklessness without a knowledge of the identity of those sources.
The court stressed its agreement with the rule applied by the Eighth Circuit in the Cervantes case,2 that a libel defendant may not be constitutionally required to disclose the identity of confidential news sources, except when the information obtained from the sources is the sole basis for the allegedly libellous statements. The Supreme Court never had to consider this case, because the source released Anderson side Brit Hume from his pledge of confidentiality.
1. Carey v. Hume, 492 F 2nd 631 (DC Cir 1974), Cert. dismissed, 417 US 938 (1974).
2. Corvantes v. Time Inc., 464 F Ed 956 (8th Cir 1972), Cert. denied, (1973) 409 U.S. 1125 (para. 615, supra).