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Letters to the Editor

Hafen releases statement on recent comment

We have been reading in the newspapers and hearing in public forums comments about our family and our business that we believe are false, but are being put forward by the speaker as statements of fact. We believe it is critical to open debate and in the exchange of opinions and ideas that the facts be fairly and accurately presented.

Free speech is a fundamental right we cherish and encourage. However, there is no First Amendment right to make false and defamatory statements which damage a person’s or business’ character, reputation or business practices. In order for our democracy to work with a free exchange of ideas it is important that ideas are not disguised as facts that are false and defamatory.

In order to make sure that the people who are presenting false facts to our community, under the pretense that it is an opinion, are aware of the laws related to making false statements, we provide the following information.

■ Defamation is the publication of a false statement of fact to a third party which negligently or maliciously causes actual or presumed damages. See Pegasus v. Reno Newspapers, Inc., 118 Nev. 706 (2002). Statements which impute dishonest or possibly unlawful conduct are capable of defamatory construction. See Posadas v. City of Reno, 109 Nev. 448 (1993).

■ Slander is the oral publication of a defamatory statement.

■ Libel is the written publication of a defamatory statement.

■ Opinions are generally not considered defamatory, but, opinions can be defamatory where a speaker expresses an opinion in a manner that suggests that the speaker knows certain facts to be true, or implies that he or she is privy to certain facts that support his or her opinion. The United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Nevada have both adopted the rule that expressions of opinion that suggest that a speaker knows certain facts to be true or may imply that facts exist which will be sufficient to render the message defamatory if false. See K-Mart Corp. v. Washington, 109 Nev. 1180 (1993); see also Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 US 1 (1990).

■ Defamatory per se statements are statements that impute a person’s lack of fitness for trade, business or profession and are “considered so likely to cause serious injury to reputation and pecuniary loss that these statements are actionable without proof of damages.” See K-Mart Corp. v. Washington, 109 Nev. 1180 (1993).

When letters to the editor and comments made in public have been delivered as though they were based on facts known to the speaker, instead of his/her opinion, and those facts are false, we feel our Democratic process has been harmed.

We feel it is important for every community member to be exposed to the wide variety of opinions that exist, but it is equally as important that statements presented as facts are accurate, factual and true.

M. Kent “Tim” Hafen

For the Hafen family and

Pahrump Utility Company, Inc.

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