Law Provisions for Journalists Facing Defamation Cases

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Law Provisions for Journalists Facing Defamation Cases

The law of defamation exists to protect both the moral and

professional reputation of the individual from unjustified attacks.

The law tries to strike a balance between freedom of speech and a free

press with the protection of an individual's reputation.

Should journalists face defamation cases there are defences available.

Justification is one of these defences, to use this defence the

journalist must prove that what they have written is substantially

true. Before the defamation act of 1952 was passed, to succeed with a

defence of justification you had to prove the exact truth of every

defamatory statement made in the article in question. But now under

section 5 of the act, the law states that the defence will not fail

merely because the article contains some minor inaccuracies. However

difficulties still arise as it is not the task of the claimant to show

the article is untrue, but the task of the defendant ie. The

journalist to prove the words written are true. The name

'justification' is misleading because the defendant does not need to

show he had a moral or social reason for publishing the words, the

fact they are true is satisfactory. The journalist has to prove the

article in question is 'on balance of probabilities' which is a lower

requirement than 'beyond reasonable doubt'. An example of this is the

1994 case between television actress, Gillian Taylforth and the Sun.

The Sun used the defence of justification successfully after they

published a front page splash entitled 'TV Kathy's sex romp'. The

article stated Gillian and her boyfriend were having sex in a parked


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... defame people. Just by

looking through the daily paper and celebrity magazines one can see a

huge amount of defamatory material. Celebrities are more of a threat

to journalists than those of modest means eg. A journalist may not

hesitate in defaming a person on income support as there is little

they could do with their limited funds. Newspapers often have to

consider whether they can afford not to publish a story, a scoop on a

celebrity may sell millions of papers so they stand to make money even

if they are taken to court and have to pay damages. Sometimes the

story is worth facing a defamation case.


McNae, Essential Law for Journalists, 2003, 17th edition

Peter Carey, Media Law, 1999, 2nd edition

Tom Crone, Law and the Media, 1998, 3rd edition
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