American Idol’s Sanjaya – Hating or Defaming?

Posted on Apr 11, 2007 in Celebrity Justice

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Sanjaya Malakar is holding his own on American Idol, despite more and more commentary about his lack of talent or ability. VoteForTheWorst.Com has a banner window, encouraging you to call in and vote for Sanjaya: “hula your way into our hearts and make us proud!” YouTube has a growing collection of Sanjaya parodies. This morning, ABCNews reported the best comment Simon Cowell has had for Sanjaya’s performances thus far: “…it wasn’t horrible.”

His singing ability has been compared to that of “a cat in heat” (American Chronicle, Robert Reyes, April 5, 2007); the Boston Herald tactfully explains that his voice “leaves something to be desired” (Tenley Woodman, April 4, 2007).

And then, there are the blogs. Here, Sanjaya fans tend to focus on his hair, his ever-changing costumes, and his sweet demeanor, while critics revel in descriptive adjectives and conspiracy theorists ponder Sanjaya as a secret weapon to take Idol off the air permanently.

But, is any of this criticism illegal? When is it hating and when is it defaming?

Defamation is against the law in every state. When it’s written, it’s called libel; when it’s something that’s been said, it’s slander. In legalese, it’s a false statement that injures someone’s reputation. It exposes him to public contempt, ridicule, or condemnation.

Sounds like Sanjaya’s being defamed, right? No. He’s in the public spotlight right now, inviting this type of commentary — it is, after all, a talent contest where the public votes on the contestants. Sanjaya asked for this when he signed up.

Plus, truth is a defense to defamation.

However, comments made about the rest of us — in blogs, in school hallways, or around the company coffee pot, and the like– may not be legally protected. It is possible to be defamed in everyday life, and to be seriously harmed as a result. A tarnished reputation can permanently change your life.

If you have any questions about defamation, please feel free to contact me at bloomlegal.com.�

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