First Session – Introduction/Defamation

On Monday we had our very first session in journalism law. This is incredibly important as it showcase what you can and can’t do when writing or within specific industries. The knowledge gained from the session will potentially stop myself from been sued and damage my professional reputation.

In the session we looked at defamation what it is and cases which had defamation involved and some where it isn’t defamation. This helped to gain a better understand on how to differentiate between fact or opinion.

I personally feel that this session was more of a refresher for me as I studied media law within my A levels so have some understanding.

What is defamation?

A statement is defamatory if it is untrue and damages a person or company’s reputation

In law, a statement is defamatory if it “tends to”:

  1. Expose them to hatred, ridicule or contempt
  2. Causes him to be shunned or avoided
  3. Lowers him in the esteem of right thinking members of society
  4. Disparages him in his business, trade, office or profession

The person complaining does not have to prove it is defamatory just that it tends to be defamatory

Examples:

Publishing that someone is a cheat or a liar is defamatory

Saying someone has financial difficulties when they do not is defamatory

If you think that a story will libel someone check with your publication manager

There are three things a person must prove for a defamation claim:

  1. It refers to him
  2. It is defamatory
  3. It has been published to a third person

Papers are at risk if they do not publish the age and address of a criminal just in case there is a person with the same name (which has happened before!)

Defences:

There are seven defences against a defamation claim:

  1. Justification – you have to prove words are true
  2. Fair comment, for giving honest view on a matter of public opinion, the fact must be correct and not published out of malice
  3. Absolute Privilege
  4. Qualified Privilege
  5. Accord and Satisfaction
  6. Offer of Amends
  7. Reynolds Defence 

Justification:

Show words are true on the balance of probabilities

Fair comment:

Honest opinion made without malice

It allows you to say that a film was rubbish and actors should be sacked for their performance – it is your opinion and you do not mean malice by it

Absolute Privilege:

You have absolute privilege for fair, accurate, contemporaneous court reports

You can print anything said in court as long as you publish both the prosecution and defence case and it is published within days of the hearing

You can print that someone has been called a paedophile or murderer etc. even if the person has later been found guilty

You are also covered by absolute privilege to print/publish comments/information made in Parliament and the House of Lords

Qualified Privilege:

This is for a fair, accurate report, published without malice on a matter of public interest

You are covered for things people say in all public meetings, press conferences and press releases e.g. police press conferences, council meetings, inquiries, village hall meetings etc.

It means you can print defamatory remarks made in these events without being sued

Accord and Satisfaction:

This is when you have printed a defamatory statement and agree to print a correction. This only works is the person accepts and is happy with this outcome

Offer of Amends:

If you have printed a defamatory statement you will agree to print an apology and pay damages. It can only be used if printed without malice

Reynolds Defence:

Report a story which is in public interest, even if it can’t be proved and included a defamatory statement, as long as it is responsible journalism

Section One Defence:

A newspaper has the added defence of a section one defence, this protects from comments made by readers of online articles e.g. Hull Daily Mail

Not defamation:

  • You can’t defame a dead person
  • You can only be sued for a year after the article was published. This is tricky with online articles now – it would need to be removed immediately after a person has sued for defamation (as it has happened that someone has sued twice for the same article as it was still up online)
  • A man cannot sue for defamation if he agreed to the article being printed

Example:

  • The Mid Staffordshire Hospital inquiry was published
  • The people who published it were covered by the defence of justification and the publication of the official report was covered by qualified privilege
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