Fair Comment Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Fair Comment, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Fair Comment?

n. Opinion which is based upon correctly stated facts and does not allege dishonorable motives on the part of the target of the comment. Unless the victim can prove that opinions were stated with malice or with intent to harm, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that comments about a public person, even if untrue and harmful, are fair comment. Therefore, a public figure cannot sue for defamation unless the alleged information would be the basis of a lawsuit if it was said or published about a private person not worthy of opinion or comment. This defense is crucial against libel suits put up by members of the media.

History and Meaning of Fair Comment

Fair comment is a defense against libel suits, where the defendant claims that their statement was just an opinion and not a statement of fact. The term originated in English law and was used in cases where the defendant had made negative statements against the plaintiff, but the statements were based on true and accurate facts. For such statements to be classified as fair comments, they must be made without malice and with honest belief.

The defense is based on the principles of freedom of speech and encourages the free exchange of opinions, ideas, and criticism. In the United States, fair comment is usually used with reference to public figures or matters of public concern. Public figures are usually people who have willingly placed themselves into the public eye, such as politicians, celebrities, athletes, and business leaders.

Examples of Fair Comment

  1. A food critic publishes an article that proclaims a new restaurant as overhyped and overpriced. As the article is an opinion and based on accurate facts regarding food and service, the critic can claim fair comment.
  2. An online reviewer writes a negative review of a local business that accuses the owner of fraudulent behavior. The review is removed, and the owner files a lawsuit. However, the reviewer can claim fair comment as their claims were based on accurate facts and honest belief.
  3. A political commentator writes an op-ed column criticizing a politician, citing their voting record and speeches. As the column consists of opinions and is based on accurate facts, the commentator can claim fair comment.

Legal Terms Similar to Fair Comment

  1. Defamation - The act of making an untrue statement that results in injury to a person's reputation or character.
  2. Slander - A spoken slanderous statement.
  3. Libel - A written slanderous statement.