There are several aspects of the law that PR practitioners need to be aware of. Abiding by such laws can determine the extent to which an organization succeeds. They force organizations to be original in how they communicate and brand themselves. They also keep organizations honest.
One law that is very important is defamation. Think PR explains it well, “Traditionally, libel was the term used for a printed falsehood and slander was the term used for an oral statement that was false. Today, as a practical matter, there is little difference in the two, and the courts often use defamation as a collective term for these types of offenses. Essentially, defamation is making a false statement about a person (or organization) that creates public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or inflicts injury on reputation” (Wilcox, 188). This is why it is vital to check facts and ensure accuracy in your statements.
The book goes on to say, “Actual malice has been defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as making a libelous statement while knowing the information is false or publishing the information with ‘reckless disregard’ as to whether it is false” (Wilcox, 188-189). The bottom line is, be honest because the truth will come out and it will take down any organization that is lifted up by lies.
A person filing a libel suit usually must prove four things:
1. The false statement was communicated to others through print, broadcast, or electronic means.
2. The person claiming to be libeled was identified or identifiable.
3. There was actual injury in the form of money losses, loss of reputation, or mental suffering.
4. The person making the statement was malicious or negligent.
It is also important to recognize that employee emails can be monitored. If someone does not particularly like the organization they are working for, they may cause harm in what they say over email. It is the organizations right to be able to address this for the good of the organization. Also, an employee may pass along emails with content that is not inline with the organizations values and can misrepresent the company. It is for this reason that employees should be informed of what exactly the organizations values are and what they wish to communicate to the public through the influence of each employee. While employees have freedom of speech it is most often best for the organization as well as their own benefit to keep the opinions in house. The exception to this is if there are clear facts that point to an organization breaking laws or putting others at harm.