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Defamation: Privilege Defenses

Defamation consists of (1) publication of a (2) defamatory statement that (3) identifies the plaintiff, (4) is false, (5) that is published with the requisite degree of fault and (6) damages to the plaintiff’s reputation. Nazeri v. Missouri Valley College, 860 S.W.2d 303 (Mo. 1993).

There are, among others, two prominent defenses that a defense will almost always argue in a defamation case: fair comment and qualified privilege. The fair comment defense protects expressions of opinion honestly and fairly held and based upon the truth. Henry v. Halliburton, 690 S.W.2d 775, 780 (Mo. 1985). Qualified privilege is a broader definition:

“[A]ll statements made bona fide in performance of a duty, or with a fair and reasonable purpose of protecting the interest of the person making them, or the interest of the person to whom they are made. A communication made bona fide upon any subject matter in which the party communicating has an interest, or in reference to which he has a duty, is privileged, if made to a person having a corresponding interest or duty.” Id.

It is important to note that even if these two defenses are applicable, a plaintiff may overcome them if he/she is able to show that the statements were made with malice. Id. at 781.

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