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News media get spate of libel suits

A recent succession of court rulings agains the communications media has led to a national surge in libel claims and a corresponding rise in the purchase of libel insurance by newspapers and broadcasting companies, The National Law Journal reports.

The increased activity apparently reflects an emboldening effect the court decisions have had on libel plaintiffs.

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Lawyers for newspapers and broadcasting companies, who historically have had marked success in heading off libel actions, see the new hostile legal climate as something of a crisis. Though they are profiting through increased billings, they say their good fortune could be at the expense of the First Amendment.

The controversial court ruling involve several key issues including a narrowing of the definition of "public figures" -- persons who must meet a greater burden of proof to recover damages. Several cases have led some recent multimillion-dollar judgments.

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