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Sunday, 3 October 2010

An Introduction to Essential Law for Journalists

Law is essential knowledge for any aspiring Journalist, without knowing the laws, there is a risk they could break it when reporting. In this blog i will look at the basic laws and knowledge that is required as well as observing a recent news story that explores some of the points raised.

Why Law is important to Journalism:-
- It’s a source of News.
- Crime always interests for a wide audience – murder, violence, fraud, deception.
This is shown by the large number of newspaper sales, particularly when a crime is on the cover.
Law is a constraint to what Journalists are able to. However, I do feel it’s important that Journalists are given as much freedom as possible, to ensure that the public receives what the information they desire. I’ve always understood that I need to stay aware of any unreasonable restrictions to this freedom. Although I do understand that certain restrictions have to be in place to protect information that shouldn’t be released to the public.
I agree with laws in the Editors Code such as ‘Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit’. These are vital in protecting UK citizens from suffering acts which are completely unacceptable not only in Journalistic terms.
It is essential that we maintain freedom of press and freedom of expression to avoid a country where people are even more afraid to voice their opinions.
The UK doesn’t have a constitution unlike most countries.

The law of Defamation

This restricts the allegations you can make in the press, Journalists can risk being sued for liable. It can constrain us, which therefore means we need to make sure we understand what we know is true and be able to separate fact from rumour. Not only does this protect us as Journalists, but it also ensures that we create the most reliable stories possible for the public.
An example of a court case recently in the news was story reported by ‘The Sun’ which involved footballer David Beckham being mentioned in court papers when a women called Shery Shabani stated that her husband Kambiz had incorrectly accused her of an affair with him. She hopes to gain full custody of her children as well as a restraining order on Kambiz claiming that the accusations were part of his ‘delusional thought process’. However, despite the minimal effect on the public in usual circumstances, the fact that it includes the mention of David Beckham (world known footballer and British celebrity) it becomes a story that the public would be interested in.
This also follows the recent claims by Irma Nici that she slept with the footballer for money, the momentum of this story and its vast publicity makes the story more relevant to the public at the time. I would assume that at any other time of the year such a story would not get much public interest as the women claims them to be untrue. However, with two stories in a very short space of time, it allows the media to create a bigger, longer lasting news story for the public to absorb and enjoy.

In the Sunday Mirror(03/10/2010) the story has progressed further. Irma Nici has shown intention to sue David Beckham for breaking the US constitution regarding free speech.
‘Her Lawyer Paul Rolf Jenson said “California law does not allow public figures like David Beckham to stifle free speech. Maybe he didn’t live here in Los Angeles long enough to learn how precious we consider our rights to tell the truth in print.’
It was also claimed that Beckham’s legal representatives pestered her along with dozens of paparazzi which has hospitalised her. This could be considered an example of when Journalists need to step back to avoid any form of persistent pursuit or harassment.

Criminal and Civil Law

Civil Law regulates conflicts between citizens ha wouldn’t usually generate interest amongst the public as a whole. This includes divorce, contracts, liable etc...
There are exceptions where Journalists would report civil law cases, such as those including celebrities (like the example mentioned above).
There is never normally a prosecution in civil law cases, they normally end with compensation etc... which would normally not be as extreme as Criminal Law punishments which allows a bit more flexibility with the amount of proof required when a decision is made.
Criminal Law deals with acts against the whole of society. One example includes murder.
The standard of proof for Criminal law cases must be beyond any reasonable doubt, which means the Jury must be completely sure of their verdict. The persecution must prove they are guilty beyond any doubt as the system ensures that at the beginning of the case they are seen as innocent. Along with this, if you arem prosecuted in a crimal law case, the punishments can be very extreme.

Civil Cases - Smith vs Smith
Criminal Cases - The State vs Smith or R vs Smith

A Magistrates Court is the lowest level of court and is the starting point of all crimes. The accused will first appear in this court and have the charge read to them, and will either plead guilty or not guilty. This will decide whether they get sent for sentencing in a high court for guilty), or sent to a trial court with a senior judge, jury etc (for not guilty).The court system is regulated by the supreme court.

I will now end this blog, as I begin to read the next part of the Essential Law for Journalists, and I am quite intrigued to learn these vital laws in more detail.


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