Latest News - Cameron announces plans for NHS reform -::::- Southampton Toll Collectors go on 1 week strike -::::- Follow @mackingnews on Twitter for all of the latest stories -::::-

Monday, 18 October 2010

Defamation and my visit to Winchester Courts

In this week’s lecture we focused on Defamation and the trouble journalists can get into when accused. A defamatory statement has the tendency to damage somebody’s reputation in the minds of other people. Libel Trails (involving a Judge and Jury) is where a Journalist can be sued for Defamation.
Ridicule/Contempt can cause them to be shunned or avoided. It affects their business, trade or profession and tends to alter their image to right thinking members of society.

Defamatory damages can possibly go into millions. Journalists try to stay away from people they know would sue.
An example of how easy it can be for a libel case to occur. I could state a defamatory statement in a blog and get sued if it has the potential to damage someone (i.e. - a statement that has the potential to be defamatory).
An individual has to be correctly identified to prevent confusion of specific person identified. There are three key points when determining if a story has a case for libel.

- It has the potential to be defamatory.
- It is published in some way.
- The person has to be clearly identified.

However, Journalists do have a justification when the story is true, and also in the public interest. This is known as ‘Privilege’.
Privilege protects the journalist as it means the story was n the interest of the government/state/public etc... It is important that the public get to see that justice is being done, and that confirmation is brought forward by Journalists reporting the stories and cases. This helps the government as it keeps the public calm under the knowledge that the Justice System works. Without reports, justice isn’t seen.

Recording Court Events
As you cannot record in court, Journalists have to rely on their shorthand to document everything that happens in a court room. Along with this, the reports of a case should be fair and accurate (based on fact/truthful), and preferably contemporary. This is because case results can change very quickly and your opinions could quickly become out of date if you decided to express them (and could lead your audience to expect a result different the final verdict). For example, if you only report the prosecution and not the defence, it wouldn’t be fair, particularly if the defendant was then found innocent.
A journalist will lose any defence in court if there is any sign of malice. This means that it the report isn’t clear/straightforward or shows intention to damage. There is one technique called ‘Bane and Antidote’ which journalists use. This involves saying something nice and something not very nice about someone to maintain balance. Although this is also a very dangerous idea as you could still potentially be taken to court. An example is if you defame a person in a headline but then make them sound better in the article itself. While you are saying nice things about them, the headline is likely to get read more than the article itself. This could be seen as defaming the person.

Newspapers can add a correction in a later edition to avoid a court order. Journalists can also write a letter to the person they defamed to try to ‘make peace’ before a court order is made. Writing ‘Without Prejudice’ at the top of the letter means that the letter cannot be used as evidence against you in court.
I went to court on Tuesday with some fellow Journalism students and we sat in the public gallery to watch part of a court case and get a feel of what it was like. It was defiantly a fascinating experience. As we entered the court, the Judge announced that one member of the Jury was removed for knowing the father of one of the witnesses. The case involved witnesses that were experts in forensic sceince. The case revolved around a tyre slashing. It was certainly an interesting time watching the case unfold as we gradually gained a better understanding of what was going on. It certainly helped me understand the courts more and get a feel for the environment.


Post a Comment