Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Law - Freedom of Information

This week we had Panorama undercover reporter Claudia Murg in to discuss investigative journalism and to 
tell us of her experiences in the field with Panorama, and how she uncovered the then poor showing by the immigration sector at ports and coastal areas. 

Anybody can make an FOI request to any public authority, except from UK security and intelligence forces who are not allowed to hand over information if an FOI is made to them. Every other organisation must give you information or respond to an FOI request.

Requests can be waiting for some time, and especially if requests written out are not specific enough and if not specific enough then the company can respond and ask you to refine your search before they give any information. 

If the request is specific then the company has 20 days to return the information to you, or if they do not send information to you then a reason must be given as to why the request has not been given a informative response within in the 20 days. If the request is not specific enough then this would be a fair enough reason for them to not send over the information because it is not specific enough.

FOI requests are usually free for nearly all companies. However, there are some exceptions, and these are if retrieving the information costs more than £600 or if it is more than £450 for local councils. 

The Freedom of Information Act 2000, which came officially into effect in 2005 became the UK's first right of access to information held by departments run by the Government and other public authorities within the UK. 

This has been a revelation for Journalists because it has the potential to release some huge, exclusive, and interesting stories, including the Government. 

Around 100,000 major and minor bodies in the public sector are covered by the Act including the Home Office, Foreign Office, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the armed forces, national park authorities, universities, schools and colleges, the NHS, and local governmental authorities plus some many more. 

Law - Confidentiality & Privacy

Confidentiality and a breach of confidence is literally defined as the principle that a person who has obtained information in confidence should respect that and not use it as a major advantage. 

Governments use the breach of confidence idea to protect TOP SECRET information, and individuals use it to protect their private lives. For journalists, breach of confidence is vital because the main thing that can be introduced to prevent a breach of confidence is an injunction which stops the media from reporting and publishing any kind of information. 

Here are some examples of injunctions being imposed by celebrities, and how the court has overturned that injunction against the celebrity allowing the media to publish or report articles which they believe to be in the interest of the public. 
  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/7102733/Judge-lifts-super-injunction-over-John-Terry-affair-with-team-mates-girlfriend.html - John Terry super-injunction
  2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1389841/Ryan-Giggs-named-Parliament-cheating-super-injunction-star.html - Ryan Giggs/Imogen Thomas super-injunction
There are three main elements in a breach of confidence:
  • the information must have 'the necessary quality of confidence' 
  • there must be an unauthorised use of that information to the detriment of the party who communicates it
  • the information must have been imparted in circumstances imposing confidence 
For journalists, they are third parties in terms of confidentiality but of course not in all cases, but in the majority of cases, journalists are third parties and therefore the information has been obtained indirectly. Journalists who realise the information is confidential and who come into possession of confidential files may have to respect the law and respect that confidence and its contents. 
A person who passes on the information to a journalist may have received that information in confidence. However, the media become affected because if the person who holds the confidence themselves discovers the intentions of the media to publish the confidential material, they can push for an injunction which can stop the release and publication of the confidential information, whether that be temporary or permanent. 

If the act of an injunction is disobeyed, then the result could be contempt of court and immediate action being taken. 

An obligation of confidence is is a contractual relationship meaning that people working for others have a contractual obligation to not reveal their employer's secrets. But, this is not a legal fact because in a sort of "unwritten law" it is suggested that an employee will not cause detriment to their employer's career or ethics. 

The main case for privacy is Princess Caroline of Monaco who worked to get an injunction on the paparazzi to stop taking photographs of her in her daily private life. Even though she lost the first case in court, she appealed and won her case for privacy. It is said that there is no logical reason to know the whereabouts of any person in their private life, regardless of how famous they are or not. 

If photographers or media want permission to film or take pictures of somebody in their private life they will need permission from the person wanted, and they will need consent, and in privacy, there are two types of consent. 

  • Implicit consent, which is getting the person involved looking directly at the camera so they know they are being filmed,r o if you wanted evidence of consent then get consent recorded on camera. 
  • Explicit consent, and this is the signing of a contract or some form of document. If you wanted evidence then this is useful because you will have written proof of their consent to record, film and take images of them. 

Although, despite this, Article 8 on privacy claims that "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. Privacy mainly affects magazines and tabloids as they are more based on celebrity and their private lives. You must have consent when filming someone or taking their picture."

Law - Copyright

This week we had Peter Hodges who was previously Head of Contacts and Copyright of the BBC, who started the lecture by giving us an animated black and white picture of the way copyright works through publishers, agents, lawyers, companies etc.

Copyright is a property right, and infact anything you do is a property right, and copyright protection starts as soon as a piece is published. Sound, films, television, graphical arrangements, performances, design rights all come under the copyright law because they are pieces which have been pulished by a creator and owner.

When referring to songs, if a song, if some of the song is wanted to be used within a news report or a feature, then the performance must be cleared by the performer, aka the person who performed the cover of a famous song, and the song must also be cleared by the company or the composer. So the person who created the song needs to clear its copyright, as does the act who performed the piece of music.
However, music at a football match, or work which includes artistic work is all fine because it is classed as 'incidental inclusion', so that's why at many football matches, you hear music on a tannoy, that is fine because it is occurring without realisation or any way of rectifying it. There is a protection of music or sounds of copyright. The length of the protection is 50 years, after the composer's death or after its releae, whichever is later. So for example, Michael Jackson's song with Akon, "Hold my Hand" would be 50 years later from its release because the song was released AFTER Jackson's death, in a posthumous album.

The same would apply for songs and sounds within an opera, but there are many more copyright issues than just the music. Peter showed us an opera in the lecture and asked us to think about what could potentially prove to be a stumbling block under the copyright law within the clip of an opera he showed us. Well, there is clearance for designers, for such things as clothes, costumes, wigs, make-up, and also clearance for the set and studio, because despite being pre-agreed, copyright is still fruitful in performances because it is a law which affects everything, from music to film, from pictures to performances. It covers the person or object as soon as it is a published piece. The way about thinking whether include a piece which is protected is whether to include it (whether clearance has been verified, payment made, or if it is relevant to the piece) and the system of how to clear it (copyright).

If a film or a news package is shown to a friend but is not published then it is not protected by copyright law, but as soon as the piece is published to the internet or television then it becomes protected. A DVD is protected for 50 years, and a book is protected for 70 years under the law.

There is also copyright and privacy over photographs, and you need written consent to use to photographic content by an artist or a performer, etc.

Within your pieces, or works, it is necessary to give acknowledgement and credit to the owners of the original music, sound, footage, image, etc, and this can be done for example by saying "Courtesy of..........."
When using this, this is usually known as fair dealing.
Fair dealing is when you are allowed to use small amounts of footage for a film, games, music video, news package for free, but the minimum you must do is credit the company or composer within the piece when using that copyrighted item. Another thing to remember is that the piece you use must only be a few seconds long at most in your item, like a "snippet" or a "teaser" in your item.

Law - Qualified Privilege

Qualified privilege is available as a defence when it is believed that the facts should be freely known in the public interest, and that they are important. In certain circumstances, there is privilege at common law for the publication of statements that are defamatory.

Qualified Privilege gives as much protection as absolute privilege, provided that the defence's requirements are met, but it is important to remember that the requirements for qualified privilege are different to those of absolute privilege. The basic requirements of qualified privilege defences is that the published report is fair and accurate, and s published without any form of malice.

There is also a general requirement for qualified privilege that the matter published must be a matter of public concern and that the publication is a matter of public interest and in the benefit of the public.

However, there is no qualified privilege for a media report for defamatory statements made by councillors after a meeting when they have been asked to expand or explain their statements made during the meeting. This is an example of the Henry case which shows protection of statutory qualified privilege which applies only to the reports of the actual proceedings at the occasion.

Slander is a defamatory statement which is spoken or expressed in any other form which is not written or an image, because libel is more of a permanent form. But, there are exceptions to slander which are, that if a defamatory statement is broadcast on the TV or radio then that is classed as libel, and if the defamatory statement is in a public performance of a play.
In slander, as with libel, there must publication to a third person or party, but in libel damages will be assumed whereas in slander the dmages must be proven very firmly, except in four particular cases:
  1. any assumption that an individual has committed crime which prison is a punishment
  2. any assumption where the person is suffering from a disease which causes them to be shunned or avoided
  3. any assumption of immoral sexual behaviour in a woman
  4. any statement which has caused a person to be disparaged in their trade or profession

Journalists are less likely to involved in slander cases than in any libel actions, but it is vital to be wary of the danger of slander.

Law - Libel & Defamation

Now onto a topic which I have a keen and particular interest and that is Defamation and, more broadly, Libel.

Libel can be committed if any of the following occurs:
  • Whether the defamation occurs (Defamation)
  • Whether the person is identified (Identification)
  • And if the piece has been published (Publication)
Defamation means writing an article that can cause damage to a reputation, cause a person to be shunned or avoided, disparage them in their business or trade and lower them in the estimation of right-thinking people. These are usually used by judges when explaining to juries whether a statement is defamatory or not.
What is Safe, dodgy and libel? Because someone else is libel, you cannot publish because you are in the firing line for damages.
What is defamation? If what you write or broadcast about someone or a company tends to harm the reputation or the look about of people.

Defamation via pictures is a common danger in television. The careless use of background shots with voice over can be defamatory, as can people or companies because they must not be identifiable in certain contexts.

Reputation is precious, especially if you in the public life, have money, or both. Meaning is interpreted by 'reasonable man' and inference is a hazard.

There are defences to libel though dependent on situations. There are four main defences:-
  1. Justification - "it's true and I can prove it in court!"
  2. Fair Comment - honest, held opinion based upon facts, or privileged material that is in the public interest
  3. Absolute Privilege - court reporting, gives journalist the right to report what actually happens on occasion. A journalist is protected by AP when reporting what is said at the time.
  4. Qualified Privilege - police quotes, pressers. When it is considered important that the facts should be freely known to the public and their interests. (more in my next blog on QP)
There are more defences against libel though. There is 'bane and antidote' which means that defamation is removed by the context. Also, the Reynolds defence has a ten-point plan which can defend against libel and defamation. The defence protects the publication of defamatory material, provided it was a matter of public interest and that it was from 'responsible journalism'.
The ten point plan of the Reynolds defence is as follows:-
  • Seriousness of the allegation
  • The nature of the information
  • The source of the information
  • Steps taken to verify the information
  • The status of the information
  • The urgency of the matter
  • Whether comment was sought from the claimant
  • Whether the article contained the gist of the claimant's side of the story
  • The tone of the article
  • The circumstances of the publication, including the timing
Here are some cases of libel results in the last year

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/may/12/roman-abramovich-libel-case-daily-mirror - Roman Abramovich vs The Daily Mirror
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/apr/01/simon-singh-wins-libel-court - Simon Singh vs BCA
  3. http://www.5rb.com/newsitem/Football-libel-trial---hung-jury - Harry Kewell vs Gary Lineker

Law - Court Reporting

In a link to the previous blog post on courts, I will talk about court reporting and what can and cannot be done within a court when reporting on a case.

As a journalist, there are certain rules you must undertake when reporting the courts and crimes which have gone on trial. Firstly it is important to remember when a case becomes active, you run of the risk of being in contempt of court. The case becomes legally active when one of the following is acted upon: when an arrest is made; when an arrest warrant has been issued; when a person has been charged or when the magistrates order a summons. A magistrates is a civil officer who lays out the law in criminal offences but civil cases will not be dealt with by the magistrates because this is not the order of the courts.

Prejudice is also a key factor in contempt of court, because it mean
s writing an article or a piece that gives your audience and readers an opinion which may not necessarily be in the favour of the defendants. If material which creates SUBSTANTIAL risk of severe prejudice to the active proceeds, regardless of your intent when writing, then you are guilty of contempt of court once the material you have produced is published or broadcasted. The ACTIVE period of a criminal or civil case determines what can be published by a journalist.

However, the Contempt of Court Act 1981 is more lenient on civil cases because juries are rarely used, so journalist have much greater leeway about civil cases than criminal ones. If contempt of court is committed, then the suspect may go free from a crime they may have committed because they would not have had a free and fair trial. The person who then published the piece, could face jail themselves.

Whilst also in the courtroom, journalists must remember that if the jury is not present in the courtroom and there are legal discussions, they should not report until verdicts are reached.

Journalists may report information before the trial in the following seven points:-
  1. Names, addresses, ages and occupations of the defendants
  2. The name of the court and the names of magistrates
  3. Names of lawyers or the barristers who are present in the room
  4. The charges to be faced
  5. Any arrangements of bail conditions
  6. Date and location of where the case is adjourned
  7. And whether there was an operation of any legal aid
The 2003 Courts Act introduced law meaning that huge costs could be liable to anybody, including journalists and media bodies, IF they are held to have committed serious misconduct.
Absolute privilege is a defence for libel when court reporting, but this will be explained in my future blog on Qualified privilege and Libel.

Law - Courts

This blog will give an overview of the court system in England and the rest of the UK, and about the courts themselves.

There are six types of courts that are used in the UK, and it is important to remember the difference between civil and criminal and whether certain courts deal with criminal or civil trials. The image below perfectly illustrates the courts in the UK, and how they are separated between civil and criminal.

The Criminal courts are the Magistrates courts, Crown court, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, also known as the Supreme Court. It is valuable to remember that court of appeal is part of the criminal division through appeals that come from the Crown court. Criminal cases deal with cases of murder, theft, fraud etc where the cases must be heard in front of the state.Magistrates courts usually are the court used for summary offences, youth courts and even family proceeding courts. The Crown court, which is higher than the Magistrates courts in the hierarchy deals with cases which require sentences as well as appeals
from the magistrates and trials for arrestable offences.

The Civil Division includes tribunals which hears appeals from decisions on immigration, tax, pensions and divorces. It is solely a court based on solving problems and disputes between groups of people, so employment or land ownership will be great examples.
There are the County courts which serves to deal with the most of civil lawsuit subject to the claim's nature.

The next court up in the civil division is the High court where the current Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales is Lord Judge. Appeals from the High courts usually jump to the Court of appeals, and then onto the Supreme Court. The High court has three divisions of its own, split into the: Queen's Bench Division; Family Division and the Chancery Division which deal with contract laws, land and business law, and family matters and divorce respectively plus many others.

The courts in England and Wales are different than Scotland, and this is because Scotland has different laws. Scotland is allowed to vote on its laws whereas England and Wales have no say which can make it very one sided.

The Supreme Court is the only court which covers all countries in the United Kingdom, from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

East Kent Gazette: "GOODBYE Wednesdays won't be the same"


This is the link to the last ever front page of the East Kent Gazette.

The end of an era in Kent this past week, as long-serving newspaper the East Kent Gazette printed its last ever edition of the paper which has been serving the Swale and Thanet area for 156 years. It's a sad time for the people of Kent, as a regular and popular news service for the region closes, and brings an abrupt end to a once loved newspaper. Being from Sittingbourne in Kent, I have grown fond of the newspaper and have previously enjoyed work experience at the long-serving service. Infact, I was due to take part in a week's placement there in January. But no more for the East Kent Gazette.

The newspaper's last edition was published on Wednesday 7th December 2011 with the headline: "GOODBYE Wednesdays won't be the same" with 10 of the front pages illustrated including its first ever one from 1855. The truth is in the writing. The EKG has not only provided a source valuable local news, it has become atreasure to the community of Sittingbourne and the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, the end of the East Kent Gazette has meant the end for the Sheppey Gazette and the Medway News too. The loss has resulted in 40 jobs being cut across the board of three newspapers.

Northcliffe Media, owners of the East Kent Gazette and Kent Regional News and Media Group had been in discussions with EKG rivals the KM group over the proposed sale of seven titles, including East Kent Gazette, Sheppey Gazette and Medway News, but the deal collapsed after it was referred to the Competition Commission, and since then both the EKG and the KM group have announced redundancies. The opportunity to discuss possible community ownership after a campaign to save the Gazette was launched, and Northcliffe said it was willing to discuss the plans if a group comes up with hard evidence of funding.

The East Kent Gazette had an average weekly circulation of 13,975 in the first six months of 2011, of which 7804 were paid for.

The KM Group has announced the beginning of a new newspaper to represent Sittingbourne called "The Sittingbourne News Extra" in which editor Matt Ramsden said: "we cannot hope to replace 156 years of history". In addition, the group is considering moving into local TV after calls for more local air-time around Tonbridge and Maidstone was announced by the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, after he announced that 65 towns and cities could host local TV by 2014.

A new breed is being born in Sittingbourne, and a new breed is being born in Kent. The era of the East Kent Gazette is over. The history of the newspaper must remain in the shadows. The future of Kent newspapers remains in the hands of the KM group and The Sittingbourne News Extra.