Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Texas Court of Appeals Rules Paper Entitled To Summary Judgment in Defamation Case

The Texas Court of Appeals, 1st District, has held that the Houston Chinese Press was entitled to summary judgment in a defamation case brought by David Tang, a limited purpose public figure. The affidavit presented by the Press's editor negated the accusation of actual malice since it was "clear, positive and direct, otherwise credible and free from contradictions and inconsistencies...". The Press had published an article reproducing some of Mr. Tang's remarks during a board meeting of the Chinese Civic Center; Mr. Tang alleged that because they were redacted, they gave a false impression of his meaning. The Press defended by claiming that it had not published with actual malice.

To negate the actual malice element, the Houston Chinese Press offered the affidavit of its editor-in-chief, defendant, Jianguang Wang. Affidavits from interested witnesses will negate actual malice as a matter of law only if they are "clear, positive, and direct, otherwise credible and free from contradictions and inconsistencies, and could have been readily controverted."....[T]o negate actual malice, a defendant's affidavit must establish his belief in the challenged statement's truth and provide a plausible basis for his belief....First, Wang's affidavit establishes his belief in the truth of the allegedly defamatory statements. Wang testified that, at the time of publication, he "knew of no statement" in the article that was "false" and "had no doubts as to the truth of any statements" in the article.

...

For summary judgment purposes, we assume the truth of Tang's assertion that he intended his statement to be a call for the Chinese community to unify to overcome the financial difficulties faced by the CCC....Nonetheless, to avoid summary judgment, Tang is still required to offer evidence establishing that the Houston Chinese Press acted with actual malice in its publication. In this respect, Tang contends that the "alteration" of his statement...is itself evidence raising an issue of material fact regarding actual malice. Tang asserts that, by omitting the...language, the Houston Chinese Press "altered" and "distorted" Tang's statement....Contrary to Tang's position, this alone is not sufficient to raise a fact issue regarding actual malice. Rather, a public figure seeking to recover for an omission must show that the publisher selected the material with actual malice....For an omission to be actual malice, the plaintiff must prove that the publisher knew or strongly suspected that the omission could create a substantially false impression....In the absence of evidence that it omitted Tang's remarks to portray his statements falsely, the First Amendment protects the Houston Chinese Press's editorial choice regarding what material it included in the article....At most, the Houston Chinese Press's decision to include only the first part of Tang's statement was an error in judgment arising from Wang's interpretation of Tang's comments. Errors in judgment are not evidence of actual malice.

Read the ruling here. The case is Jianguang Wang and Yellow Emperor Communications, d/b/a Houston Chinese Press v. David Tang, Texas Court of Appeals, No. 01-08-00009-CV (2008).

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