Fashion, Food, and Defamation: In the Eye of the Beholder?

A fashion model struts her stuff in the Bella Faire fashion show located in Mount Dora, Florida on Saturday November 10th, 2012 (Photo: Michelle Turner).

The fashion and food industries are two genres that are very subjective in nature. Whether an outfit is fashionable or a dish is flavorful is all in the eye or the mouth of the beholder. Even within the same family or panel of judges on a reality show, you rarely find unanimous agreement. Therefore, how does a fashion writer or a food writer- or publisher of that writer- avoid violating any defamation laws while discussing a fashion or food topic honestly but with more opinion than fact?  Whether you are an American writer or across the globe in Australia, how does a writer avoid becoming a defamatory defendant?

A Publisher’s Point of View

Everything Lake Magazine is a print publication that has monthly style and food articles for the Lake County, Florida community. According to Everything Lake’s publisher Al Asghar, the key to avoiding defamation is in the tone and the goal of the article.

“As far as the food articles are concerned, we take a very neutral approach to it. We glorify the restaurant and talk about the positives. Most of the information is obtained by interviewing the owner of the restaurant. Our mission is more to introduce the restaurant to Lake County. Most people make their own opinions. As far as style & fashion, we engage in general topics that will help the reader.”

He concluded by saying “Our articles on fashion and food are more ‘feel-good’ articles. We emphasize the positive and focus on the good points.” How does this point of view hold up against defamation statues in the State of Florida?

The Legal Lingo

The elements of a defamation lawsuit in the state of Florida (the home of Everything Lake Magazine) include the following points:

1. The defendant published a false statement;

2. The statement was about the plaintiff;

3. The statement was made to a third party; and

4. The falsity of the statement caused injury to the plaintiff.

Additionally, according to Citizen Media Law Project, a plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s fault in publishing the statement amounted to at least negligence.

Thus, when contrasting Asghar’s approach to fashion and food articles in his magazine to the requirements of a defamation lawsuit in the state of Florida, there is strong support to his assertions that tone and motive is key to fair and legal publications. If a writer maintains a feel-good tone while focusing on only the positive aspects of a restaurant or in that they only want to help their reader, they avoid negligent behavior or falsity in their writing- even if it is in the opinioned fashion and food industries.

Al Asghar can be reached at al@everythinglake.com. 

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