Media law for the little guy
By Judith Townend
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
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
So what about media law…?
• It applies to everyone, ‘journalist’ or not
• I wanted to find out more so I set up a survey in summer 2010
• Publicised via Twitter and media blogs, including: Journalism.co.uk,
the MediaBlog, FleetStreetBlues, Talk About Local and other blogs
(Jon Slattery, CurryBet, One Man and His Blog).
• For ‘small’ or independent publishers based in
– What legal resources do you use?
– What legal encounters have you experienced?
– Do you feel there are enough resources available
• Survey conducted using Google Docs; self-
selecting group of participant
• 71 responses
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
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.
• 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, now in
its 20th edition.
“McNae’s for frontline advice,” one said.
“I ring the NUJ if I need further help.”
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!”
More research is needed
• How many online publishers have legal
• How much do publishers actually know about
• How many legal incidents will occur in next 12
month period? Is there any way of tracking
• Can some kind of organisational support be
developed? What shape should it take?