NEW YORK — News-media organizations were sued less often and won more lawsuits in the past five years than they did in previous decades, but they paid more on average in damages when they lost, according to a media-monitoring organization.
In a study that has been ongoing since 1980, the Media Law Resource Center found that news-media organizations have successfully defended themselves in 53.8% of the lawsuits filed against them so far this decade.
They won 36.3% of the lawsuits filed against them in the 1980s and 40.2% of the lawsuits filed against them in the 1990s, according to the MLRC.
Media organizations were sued about half as many times between 2000 and 2005 as they were in the '80s, the MLRC study found. Fourteen suits were brought in 2005, just above the average of 13.8 so far this decade, which reflects a downward trend from an average of 27 in the '80s and 18.8 in the '90s.
"This is good news for those who understand the threat posed to free speech and press from the enormous time and expense of these kinds of lawsuits," MLRC Executive Director Sandra Baron said in a statement.
Of the 14 suits brought in 2005, media organizations won half of them. In the seven cases they lost, they paid an average of $369,000 in damages.
2005 marks an unusually forgiving year in terms of damages, which have moved upward from an average of more than $1.5 million in the '80s to an average of $2.8 million so far this decade.
The survey reflects a total of 531 trial lawsuits since 1980. The MLRC said 87.6% of the lawsuits accused defendants of defamation.
The New York-based MLRC is a nonprofit organization established by media groups to monitor trends and promote First Amendment rights.