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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Qualified Privilege

Qualified Privilege is one of the best defences against libel.

The requirements for solid defence are:-
- Justification
- (Fair)Comment
- Privilege

You should always think about what fact is and what comment is when writing/reporting a story as it can be easy to confuse the two.

Privilege makes you exempt from Law (libel law in certain circumstances).
Statutory Privilege allows the Journalist to publish certain specified information. Parliamentary Privilege means you can report certain parliament events.
If an MP says something at Parliament with malice, a Journalist is still able to report this without being accused of malice themselves. This is known as ‘Absolute Privilege’ (AP).
However, if you are reporting allegations made in parliament just to cause trouble, it would then be considered malice.

If you Journalist is reporting a court case that is still progressing, they must end a report saying something such as ‘The case continues’ or ‘and they’re pleading not guilty’ to avoid claims of prejudice or bias as at the stage of reporting the case, it may only be the prosecution that have spoken and could therefore be considered malice. However, once the court finds someone guilty, reporting them as guilty would become fact. A judge’s sentencing is fact.
You get qualified privilege when reporting from the local government but only with refutation.

Comment can be important in defending certain words used in an article or report. For example, describing someone as ‘sick’ or ‘evil’ could be defended as comment if it can be justified to some extent (such as a paedophile, as they could be considered as evil or sick as they have something wrong with them).

Another important part of defence is Positive Identification. This means correctly and accurately identifying the person you a reporting about. You must ensure that the person being defamed is correctly identified (someone in particular). If you don’t identify someone specifically enough(such as just giving a name) then someone with the same name could sue if it is easy for them to be mistakenly identified as the person being reported.
Occasionally you can argue Accidental Libel, but this is very rare as it would mean a big coincidence of two people having very similar identities.
Also broad identification can be very dangerous as it allows multiple people to sue you if they feel they have been defamed because of you reporting.
Pictures can be very important in Positive Identification. There are normally two types of pictures: mug shots and action shots. Mug shots are usually used for identification.

You can be sued for libel if the following 3 things apply:-
- Defamation
- Publication
- Identification
Libel action usually results in a minimum of around £50,000, and this is normally if the case is settled out of court. It is quite often that cases are settled out of court.

If you’re fast, accurate and fair you ensure that you maintain Qualified Privilege.
Fast- The report must be made in the first available edition.
Accurate- Any errors in a report (even trivial errors) would make you lose your qualified privilege.(Eg- spelling, meaning and even punctuation can). I therefore realise how important it is to check everything in a report is correct.
Fair- You must not make up you reporting, it must be based on fact.

You don't neccesarioly need to know the truth to report something. Aslong as you have good sources, inlucde the person denying allegations, publish as soon as possible and avoid malice.

We briefly explored Renolds 10 Point test in our Lecture. The 10 points are as follows-

1. The seriousness of the allegation
2. The nature of the information
3. The source of the information
4. The steps taken to verify the information
5. The status of the information
6. The urgency of the matter
7. Whether comment was sought from the claimant
8. Whether the article contatined the gist of the claiments side of the story
9. The tone of the article
10. The circumstances of the publication


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