Mcalpine V Bercow Case Study

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The 2013 case of McAlpine v Bercow has stimulated significant academic debate recently. This trial – whilst surfacing the inter-relationships between personal privacy, defamation and digital communication – suggests that it will have significant implications for the media. This essay will evaluate the extent to which statements made through digital communications are defamatory. The assessment of this highly influential English decision, however, will also consider an equally provocative argument: can tweets be defamatory? It could be suggested that the courts will be reluctant to hold a defamatory Twitter ‘tweet’ as achieving true defamatory status. In part two of this essay, there will be a critical discussion of the considerable volume of academic commentaries prompted by the trial. In doing so, this will allow for an evaluation of the implications arising from the Court’s defamation finding and how, more importantly, they are placed in a broader media context. Nevertheless, this essay will ultimately show that McAlpine represents a sobering illustration that publishing an opinion on a seemingly limitless social media site can be just as damaging as that precipitated in any other place.

Part One: McAlpine v Bercow’s likely effect on the media
There are distinct elements within the trial judgement that require separate evaluations. The facts of McAlpine are a solid platform for understanding all of the concerns generated in the case. McAlpine, the claimant, is a high profile former Conservative Party politician who has been retired for over 20 years. Whilst on a 2013 ‘Newsnight’ television broadcast, McAlpine was incorrectly identified as being connected to a series of alleged child sex abuse incidents. Alt...

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...ase does well to strike a balance between reputation rights and freedom of expression.

McAlpine v Bercow signifies the importance of vigilance when making an opinion public in the digital communication sphere. This case certainly contributes to the regulation of modern-day English media and defamation law on a broader scale. The reasoning delivered by Tugendhat J explain that the former defamation principles that claimants relied on in traditional media environments, are now readily translated into the digital social media world. A ‘tweet’ seven words long has been proven to result in defaming the reputation of those mistakenly accused. Those that choose to use Twitter, or any other seemingly casual format, must be aware that being defamatory on a social media site can be just as damaging as that precipitated in a newspaper, speech or broadcast.
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