Thursday, 14 October 2010


Catch-up blog on our lecture about defamation and libel.



- This area of law can be a very expensive business, although there has been a lack of recent high profile cases - perhaps due to the current economic climate.

- 1998: Kieran Fallon sued the Sporting Life newspaper for accusing him of deliberately not winning a race.

- To avoid getting sued, it is always important to remember balance. If you talk to both sides, you will pretty much have your legal defence.

DEFAMATION is a tendency to...

1. lower individual(s) in the estimation of right thinking people
2. cause them to be shunned/avoided
3. disparage them in their business, trade or profession
4. expose them to hatred, ridicule or contempt

- Notice the apparent vagueness of these conditions. In statute, what you print only needs to have a tendency to do any of the above.

- Think about the individual(s) reputation at the time of printing. How much do they have to lose? And would an upstanding member of a community think less of them as a result?

Defamation via pictures (juxtaposition libel)

- A big danger in television. Voiceovers - in OOVs for example - need to match the shots on-screen. If we are too careless, we could be defaming somebody without even knowing it.

- Be careful with imprecise shots. For example, if you are asked to go and get GVs of a terrorists house that has been raided and you include the door of a neighbour in the shot, you're in hot water.

- Therefore, people/companies must not be identified in the wrong context.

Reputation and meaning

- Reputation is precious, remembering this as a journalist is just as vital.
- Meaning: how what you print is interpreted by a 'right-thinking' person.
Inference and innuendo our hazards here

Former Cabinet Minister Lord Gowrie sued over an article that created the innuendo that he was taking drugs (see page 307 in McNae or read this)

Journalists' defences

1. JUSTIFICATION: "It's true and I can prove it"
2. FAIR COMMENT: "This is my honestly held opinion based on the facts"
3. ABSOLUTE PRIVILEGE: court reporting
4. QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE: police quote, council meetings etc

Reynold's defence

- In basic terms, a journalist can be let off if the defamatory remarks are seen to be in the public interest.

- If you come to your conclusions after practising 'responsible journalism' (i.e - kept notes, diaries, recordings), your defence will be enhanced.

EXAMPLE: The Sunday Times v Albert Reynolds

Former head of the Republic of Ireland Government Albert Reynolds sued the Sunday Times after a story that hinted at the fact he was misleading his country's parliament.

The Sunday Times argued that the report was necessary as it was clearly a matter of public interest. The newspaper lost, but a year or so later on appeal, it was officially ruled that the media have a duty to perform public duties of this ilk.

See page 357 for more or read this parliament document.

Bane and antidote

Accusation of libel removed by whole context (of the article or string of articles)

- BANE = the offence, ANTIDOTE = the defence - perhaps something said later on in the article that draws on a more balanced opinion about the subject)

Antidote can be in the form of an apology or clarification, which can usually be found tucked away in the bottom corner of page 20!

However, you have no defence when you...

- haven't checked facts
- haven't referred it up
- haven't put yourself in the shoes of the party in question
- get carried away by a spicy story
- don't bother to wait for your lawyer's opinion.


- Who am I writing about? Could they sue?
- Is it potentially defamatory?
- DO I have a defence? Which one?

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