Actual Malice and Negligence
When a private figure plaintiff sues for defamation over statements of purely private concern (i.e., not related to a matter of legitimate public concern), New Jersey courts require the plaintiff to show that the defendant was at least negligent. In cases involving matters of legitimate public concern, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice, i.e., knowing that the statements were false or recklessly disregarding their falsity. Public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures also must prove actual malice. See the general page on actual malice and negligence for details on the standards and terminology mentioned in this subsection.
Privileges and Defenses
New Jersey courts recognize a number of privileges and defenses in the context of defamation actions, including substantial truth, the fair report privilege, and the opinion and fair comment privileges.
In addition, New Jersey statutes recognize a privilege for cable television broadcasters who complying with their obligations under any State or Federal law, regulation, or policy requiring that broadcast services be made available to members of the public. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 48:5A-50.
There also is an important provision under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that may protect you if a third party – not you or your employee or someone acting under your direction – posts something on your blog or website that is defamatory. We cover this protection in more detail in the section on Publishing the Statements and Content of Others.
Fair Report Privilege