Friday, 21 October 2011

Law lecture 4 – Qualified privilege

Justification – statement could be defamatory, but it is true and you can prove it.
Fair comment: you could defame so and so, “this guy is bad at football” which is a defamatory statement – but if you genuinely believe that this guy is bad at football, it is called called fair comment. You couldn't use this defence if malice was involved – it has to be based on facts.

Qualified privilege – common law qualified privilege and statutory qualified privilege (for court reporting)

Privilege in law means exemption of the law. Above the law.

The queen has absolute privilege. Judges have absolute privilege when they are sitting in court – in term of what they say. You can defame anyone in court, you cannot be sued for it.

Journalists, in court, have qualified privilege, to be able to repeat/report defamatory statements.

Lawyer has absolute privilege.

Journalist – qualified privilege: someone has privilege when they report a court hearing so long asit is contemporaneous and free from error and it is without malice. If you apply these rules, qualified privilege is as good as absolute privilege.

Always say that if the defendant pleaded guilty/not guilty. Always say “the case continues”. You must give equal prominence to defence/prosecution. Otherwise you'll be guilty of libel and contempt of court.

Other place for QP: Parliament. In exactly the same way, anything said in parliament is protected, so long as it's accurate fair and contemporaneous.

Robert Maxwell – he was running the funding of the labour party – was accused of being involved with the KGB

If someone in Winchester city council says the leader of the labour group is a cocaine addit, you cant print it unless you've got a full refutation.

QP in common law

ie: made by judges convention etc... not by statue

case: Toogood v Spyring
Clegg case (northern Ireland) British soldier who shot youths in Ireland who were pro IRA. The guy went to jail and there was a “free Clegg campaign” - some argued he was only doing his duty by shooting IRA terrorists. QP was then applied to this campaign in order for journalists to be able to report what they were saying without being sued.

Albert Reynolds vs Sunday Times

Child sexual abuse in a catholic church - before it was widely known. Probably the worst thing you can be accused of in terms of defamation.

The ST alleged that PM Reynolds was involved in covering up child abuse in the Catholic Church. He sued, and won the case. The Sunday Times appealed.

1 – the seriousness of the allegation – the more serious the more protection
2 – the nature of the information and the extent to which the subject matter is a matter of public concern
3 – the source of the information: the more authoritative the source, the more you're entitled to report the allegation
4 – The steps taken to verify the information – there must be a reasonable attempt in the time available to disprove the info.
5 – the status of the information
6 – the urgency of the matter: news is a perishable commodity – it needs to be urgent
7 – whether comment was sought from the claimant
8 – whether the article contained the gist of the claimant's side of the story
9 – the tone of the article
10 – the circumstances of the publication, including timing

Do not print your story with “we couldn't contact them for comment”

the Galloway case (a Reynolds defence fails)

The Daily Telegraph made defamatory allegations against him, saying that he was a spy working for Saddam Hussein. There was no defence of justification. But it was a serious matter obtained from official documents. They phoned Galloway and he denied it. G. sued and he won. The DT attempted a Reynolds defence. The documents didn't constitute proof.

Another failure: Mohammed Abdul Latif

Was accused by the Wall street journal who said he was financing terrorism. They couldn't prove it but they thought it was true. They were only relying on QP – they hoped they had sufficient evidence to make this allegation. They lost the case in british court. They appealed and won.

No legal definition of public interest but the pcc has one:
-detecting or exposing rime or serious impropriety
-protecting public health and safety
-preventing the public being misled by an action or statement of an individual or an organisation.


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