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Media law for community journalists and bloggers


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A presentation given to participants at the Community Journalism Conference, Cardiff University, 16 January 2013, setting out the legal landscape for online publishers and asking for responses to a survey

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Media law for community journalists and bloggers

  1. 1. Media law and social media Judith Townend Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism City University London
  2. 2. Traditional news orgs…• ‘Night lawyers’: specialised legal professionals to check copy at the last minute• In-house lawyers• Journalists with media law training• Legal insurance?• Willing to take risks (can make payouts)• High profile and well-connected
  3. 3. But new sites are springing up…• Hyperlocal sites• Community news projects• Consumer blogs• Student blogs• Online chat/debate forums• ‘User-generated content’ (UGC)• Social networking
  4. 4. So what about media law…?It applies to everyone, ‘journalist’ or notMore areas to consider than ever:- defamation, contempt, copyright, privacy- Communications Act 2003, Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, Malicious Communications Act 1988see CPS consultation
  5. 5. Everyone’s a publisher now• You might only have a few followers and have restricted your privacy settings, but your social media updates are ‘publications’ and therefore you need to educate yourself about basic media law dos and don’ts, around areas such as defamation (libel/slander), breach of privacy and confidence, copyright and contempt of court
  6. 6. Limited data but…Criminal Civil• 653 people charged with • Numerous reports of crimes involving Twitter and bloggers and social media Facebook in 2012 users receiving threats of• 4,908 reports of offences defamation claims related to Facebook and • Several defamation cases Twitter in 2012 involving small social(source: PA Media Lawyer, December 2012) media profiles (eg. Cairns• 9 people plead guilty to v Modi) naming rape victim on • McAlpine settlements Twitter and Facebook - with tweeters offence under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 (BBC, November 2012)
  7. 7. Libel and privacy• Defamation: Protects individuals’ professional and personal reputations but there are various defences available to publishers. It is called libel in its permanent form (including tweets, Facebook updates, emails…)• Privacy: arising from law of breach of confidence, now a separate cause of action under Article 8, Human Rights Act 1998
  8. 8. Survey• How confident do you feel about media law and what are your experiences?Please visit:
  9. 9. Survey - 2010• For ‘small’ or independent publishers based in the UK: – What legal resources do you use? – What legal encounters have you experienced? – Do you feel there are enough resources available to you?• Survey conducted using Google Docs; self- selecting group of participant• 71 responses
  10. 10. The results
  11. 11. On legal trouble…• Of the 19 online writers who were contacted over a legal matter in the last two years (27 per cent), only seven sought legal advice, which was paid for in four instances. The remaining 12 dealt with it alone.• Only two of the cases reached court. For six of the publishers, the case was dropped at an earlier stage. Two published corrections or clarifications. Nine involved payment and/or removal of material, although in two cases this was only partial removal of material.
  12. 12. On legal resources…• 71 respondents were completely divided: 46% said they did not think there was enough legal information and advice at hand; 54% said there was an adequate amount.• But the overall picture contrasted with answers from those who had encountered legal trouble in the last two years: only 32% of those 19 respondents felt they were able to access adequate legal information, 68% did not.
  13. 13. Resources used…• Of the respondents who cited the resources they used, the most popular was McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, with 17 respondents mentioning the law title “McNae’s for frontline advice,” one said. “I ring the NUJ if I need further help.”
  14. 14. On what they want…• A mixed reaction, but some felt they’d like to see some kind of additional legal support: “I think there’s a real case, nonetheless, for an organisation that serves to help small-scale online publishers with legal cases when they do arise. I’d say that this shouldn’t be restricted to ‘professional journalists’, since one’s professionalism or otherwise doesn’t have much bearing any more on how often/much you publish and how much trouble you can get yourself into!”
  15. 15. More research is *still* needed• How many online publishers have legal insurance?• How much do publishers actually know about the law?• How many online publishers are directly affected by legal threats (criminal and civil)?• Can some kind of organisational support be developed? What shape should it take?• What role for Public Legal Education?
  16. 16. Key resourcesWhile media law can be confusing and oftenunclear, there are plenty of resources out there.Spend some time reading the key online guidesand get hold of a copy of a basic and up-to-datetextbook like McNae’s Essential Law forJournalistsQ: What resources do you use?
  17. 17. TrainingTraining in media law will not only help youprotect yourself against legal action but it willhelp you maintain your right to freedom ofexpression, which includes the right to receiveas well as impart information
  18. 18. It’s changingThe civil and criminal law around blogging andsocial media isn’t set in stone: try and keep upto date with media law news – new legislationas well as case law - so that you are well-informed about latest developments
  19. 19. Resources - guides• BBC College of Journalism Law guide,• Centre for Investigative Journalism guide to libel,• David Price Solicitors & Advocates’ guide to media law,• McNae’s student resources,• Media Trust Local360 Network, Law, Ethics and Funding guide, and-funding• Sense About Science guide to libel law for bloggers, libel-law.html• More at:
  20. 20. Resources – organisations• Article 19,• Citizens’ Advice Bureau,• Early Resolution,• English PEN,• Index on Censorship,• Information Commissioner’s Office,• JUSTICE,• Media Legal Defence Initiative,• National Union of Journalists,• National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ),•,• Sense About Science,
  21. 21. Further reading• Speech by Lord Justice Leveson (7 December 2012) ‘Privacy and the Internet’, leveson-speech-privacy-internet-07122012• Index on Censorship / English PEN report, ‘Free Speech is Not For Sale’ (2009),• Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued by Mark Pearson (2012)• Covering Criminal Courts: A Survival Guide by Sarah Chapman (2011)• McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, 21st edition by Mark Hanna and Mike Dodd (2012)• Media law and blogging research by Judith Townend (2010),
  22. 22. Meeja Law & Twitter@jtownend / @meejalaw / @medialawUK
  23. 23. Thank you! questions?••• @jtownend / @meejalaw