Tuesday, 13 December 2011

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

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