Thursday, 13 October 2011

Media Law Week Three. Defamation and Libel.

What is defamation?
If what you write or broadcast about someone or a company tends to...
* Lower them in the estimation of right thinking people.
* Cause them to be shunned or avoided.
* Disparge them in their business, trade or profession.
* Expose them to hatred ridicule or contempt.

Defamation via picturesd is a common problem in television. It is imperitive to be careful with background shots and the voice overs which accompany them.

Reputation and Meaning
A person's repuatation is precious, especially if they are in the public eye, have a lot of money or both!
Be very careful of inference and innuendo, this can both be major hazards. Assess the whole context before printing or broadcasting.


Libel Defences
If, as a journalist, you do find yourself being charged with libel there are defences in place.
* Justification- if what has been printed/ broadcast is true and can be proved in court.
* Fair Comment- honestly held opinion based upon facts or privileged material, in public interest.
* Absolute Privilege- this covers court reporting.
* Qualified Privilege- this covers police quotes, press conferences etc.
* Bane and Antidote- this is defamation removed by context, giving a lot of balance.
* Apologies and clarification- although it is a bit of a late defence and papers will not always be happy to print an apology, it can avoid further legal problems.
* Reynolds Defence- this states that material must be in the public interest and a product of responsible journalism. For a more in depth look at the Reynolds Defence, take a look at

Generally, using balance in any piece will give a lot of protection.

No Defence
You will have no defence against libel if...
* You have not checked your facts
* You have not 'referred up,' talked to your editor, a lawyer etc.
* You have not put yourself in the shoes of the person or company you write about.
* You got carried away with a particularly 'spicy' story.
* You have not waited for a lawyers opinion.

It is vital to RECOGNISE RISK!
Think who you are writing about, could they sue?
Is what you are writing about potentially defamatory?
Do you have a defence?

Here are a few recent stories and articles concerning libel which are worth a read.

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