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Sunday, 4 November 2012


Defaming someone is something that journalists need to be very careful of, defame the wrong person and it could cost you a lot of money, but worse than that, it can cost you your career.

However, before you can start to understand defamation, it's important to be able to recognise what is safe, what could be dodgy and what could be defamatory. It goes back to being able to recognise risk.
If you have doubts, you can refer it up, either to your editor or lawyer. It'sd also a good idea to remember 'If in doubt, leave it out'. Balance is important, but it can't really combat defamation.

Defining Defamation
If what you write or broadcast about someone or a company tends to-
- Lower them in estimation of right-thinking people.
- Causes them to be shunned or avoided.
- Disparages them in their business, trade or profession.
- Exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt.
Publication + Defamation + Identification = Libel
Defamation via pictures ('picture libel')
Careless use of background shots with voice over can be defamatory.
Eg- Making clear who the defendant is or showing a shop/company that you aren't directly referring to.
People or companies must not be identifiable, particularly when theirs is the potential of defamation.

Reputation and Meaning
Reputation is previous, especially if you are in public life, money or both.
Meaning is interpreted by a 'reasonable man'.
Inference - hazard
Innuendo - hazard
You should assess the whole context.
Libel Defences
- Justification - 'It's true and I can prove it in court'
- Fair Comment - Honestly held opinion based upon facts, or privileged material in public interest.
- Absolute Privilege - Court reporting (have to be in court for the sentencing when reporting it to have the privilege)
- Qualified Privilege - Police quotes, pressers.
Bane and Antidote - Defamation removed by context.
- Apologies and Clarifications
- Reynolds Defence (Includes material being in the public interest, a product of 'responsible journalism' and more)

No Defence
- When you have not checked your facts.
- When you have not 'referred up'.
- When you have not put yourself in the shoes of the person or company you write about.
- Got carried away by a 'spicy' story.
- Not bothered to wait for a lawyers opinion.

Recognise Risk
- Who am I writing about, and could they sue?
- Is what I'm writing potentially defamatory?
- Do I have a defence?
- Lawyers don't mind being asked, so if you're unsure, don't worry about asking them.



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