Aigerim Mamyrova JMC-111Writing research and evidence
“Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you”
What is libel?Libel is a published defamation of character, writing or pictures that expose a person to hatred, shame, disgrace, contempt, or ridicule. Injure a person’s reputation or cause the person to be shunned or avoided, or injures the person in his or her occupation.
Journalists must have a healthy respect for laws of libel and privacy because they uphold the right to an individual’s ―good name‖ and the right of private citizens to conduct their private lives without intrusion.That said, there is a balance to be struck. Journalists should not allow concern about the law to prevent them from doing their work conscientiously for the public good. The best safeguard against a libel action is good journalistic practice: thorough, accurate and balanced reporting, careful and sceptical editing, and fair-minded presentation.
Types Libel per se, “obviously defamatory” publications. Libel per quod, “publications which are not obviously defamatory, but which become so when considered in connection with innuendo, colloquium and explanatory circumstances.”
Four specific types of libel per se:• accusing a person of having committed “an infamous crime.”• charging that a person has “an infectious disease.”• impeaching a person in his or her trade or profession.• a catch-all category consisting of communication that “tends to subject one to ridicule, contempt or disgrace.”
LIBEL PER SE The more obvious of the two, libel per se, means "by itself" or "on the face of it." The reader or viewer does not have to interpret or study in order to understand the libel per se because it is obvious or evident. Libel per se is the more serious of the two types, and persons libeled in this manner do not have to prove that they suffered damage to their reputations, monetary loss or other injury. Libel per se can support a lawsuit in itself.
The second type of libel is committed by inference and is more ―hidden.‖ Its legal term, libel per quod, means ―bec ause of circumstance‖ or ―by means of circumstance.‖ In libel per quod, the statements, words or phrases involved maybe harmless in themselves, but become libelous because of attached circumstances. Usually, such circumstances are unforeseen by the publisher, who can claim that the questionable material was published in good faith and without malice. However, good faith is not a complete defense.
Libel per quod is the most common of all libels. Very few publishers intentionally undertake the risk involved in printing material that is obviously libelous. However, libel per quod often occurs because of errors or negligence. There are countless other examples of libel by circumstances — wrong names, wrong addresses, and so forth.
Professionals. Attorney: shyster, ambulance chaser, crafty, unprincipled, and slick Business person: swindler, racketeer, double- dealer, cheat, and phony. Politician: liar, grafter, perjurer, seller of influence, pocketer of public finds, and criminals partner. Doctor: quack abortionist, faker, and incompetent.Also, never use such words as crooked and criminal to describe people or their behavior. Affiliations. Red, Communist, Nazi, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, atheist, nudist and socialist (sometimes). Honesty and Morals. Unreliable, a credit risk, hypocrite, adulterer, unchaste, prostitute, drunkard, c onspirator, mistress and thief.
A statement about a national, ethnic, religious or similar group might not be libelous, but it might fall under laws banning incitement to hatred or hate speech. Some states place a ban on criticizing the heads of friendly nations or even the country itself. Remember, it is possible that people can be identified in an article even if they are not specifically named. An official could be identified by title or position, by occupation or by address. If a group is so small its members are easy to identify individually- workers in a small office - they may all be able to sue.
A Common Sense ApproachBefore going into the specific details ofvarious laws, it is important to have acommon sense approach to the issues: Be attentive to complaints about accuracy and fairness, and be prompt in correcting errors. An angry reader treated fairly who sees that you are willing to fix mistakes might be less inclined to take further action. A swift correction can also be seen as mitigating evidence in a court.
Never ignore a threat of legal action. Talk about it with a senior editor as soon as possible. Do not hope it will go away. Be sure that senior editors have a chance to check sensitive articles early before they are published. Decisions that might need legal advice - whether there might be some protection against a person likely to sue or whether a tough statement might be protected because of the circumstances – should not be made by a single sub-editor a few minutes before a publication deadline. Good journalism means sometimes taking a risk, but it must always be for a good, well thought out reason. Taking sound legal advice and considering issues of libel is often about risk assessment.
Some countries consider libel a criminal matter, which means the accused could go to jail. Others consider it a civil matter, but losing could incur heavy damages. Some plaintiffs will use both civil and criminal law.
In some countries, insults or even strong criticism against minister or public officials may be considered libellous or even criminal. In other countries criticism of public figures is given wide latitude in the interest of the public good and democracy. There is simply no universal agreement, so journalists must familiarise themselves with local law and practice.
No matter how many others have written a story, do not write it unless you know you yourself can prove it
Defamation laws by jurisdictionInternationallyArticle 17 of the United Nations InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights states 1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. 2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Defenses Against LibelThere are several common defenses a reporter has against a libel lawsuit: Truth Since libel is by definition false, if a journalist reports something that is true it cannot be libelous, even if it damages a person’s reputation. Truth is the reporter’s best defense against a libel suit. Privilege Accurate reports about official proceedings – anything from a murder trial to a city council meeting or a congressional hearing – cannot be libelous. This may seem like an odd defense, but imagine covering a murder trial without it. Conceivably, the reporter covering that trial could be sued for libel every time someone in the courtroom accused the defendant of murder. Fair Comment & Criticism This defense covers expressions of opinion, everything from movie reviews to columns on the op-ed page. The fair comment and criticism defense allows reporters to express opinions no matter how scathing or critical. Examples might include a rock critic ripping into the latest Britney Spears CD, or a political columnist writing that she believes President Bush is doing a horrible job.
Finally, in legal review of a story, it is important to keep a clear distinction between the lawyers and the editors roles. The function of a newspapers lawyer should be to identify all risks, suggest ways to minimize those risks, and assess the evidence available to defend the newspaper, if necessary. The decision of whether and what to publish should be made by the editor, who is in a position to weigh the identified risks against the importance of particular facts and the news value of the story.
For journalists, the best way to avoid a libel suit is to do responsible reporting. Don’t be shy about investigating wrongdoing committed by powerful people, agencies and institutions, but make sure you have the facts to back up what you say.