Tag Archives: libel

Do hyperlocal and student websites fall foul of the new press regulator and libel laws?

leveson regulation guidance

The DCMS pubished this image to clarify the definition of “a relevant published” under proposals published in early 2013.

Nick Booth left a Press Recognition Panel consultation under the impression that non profit hyperlocals were going to be exposed by the new regulation system. Then legal experts suggested he’d got it wrong. So which is it? In a special post cross-published from Podnosh, Nick tries to tease out a complex law and ask: ‘when someone sues now, who pays?’.

Last week I spent a couple of hours at a consultation in Birmingham run by the Press Recognition Panel, which is the regulator set up to oversee the creation of (a?) new press regulator(s) following the Leveson Inquiry and the Royal Charter. (I know this has already got a bit “what?”, but stick with me.)

I was there because I’m interested in what it means for hyperlocal websites (which we have helped people set up over a number of years). Especially the implications for those run for the love of their community,  sites like B31voices or WV11 –  not run for the money. Talk About Local has already questioned whether hyperlocals fall within Leveson and I wanted to be clear one way or the other…

So this is how my thinking has evolved…. if you find an asterix next to an assertion I’m not 100% sure this is right. Continue reading

Advertisements

Test your online journalism law: 1 – the food that should have been binned

All this week I am going to be publishing examples of legal dilemmas that a journalism student might face (Read my previous post on students being publishers, and the responsibilities that come with that for the background). I’ll be using the hashtag #ojblaw throughout and live tweeting a discussion on Friday 10-12 UK time.

I hope you can comment on what a student publisher might do – and why.

Here’s the first:

Case 1: major fast food outlet selling food it should have binned

It is 4am and you are sat with a friend in a fast food chain outlet. This is a well known, global brand – you can choose either McDonalds or Burger King, because these things matter.

Your friend works for the same company, in another city. She turns to you and says:

“That food should have been thrown away two hours ago.”

She knows because she can see the timestamps on the food packaging behind the counter.

The next day you prepare to write up a news article about this.

You find some useful background: the company has published its own policy on how long food should be kept out, for example. You also have the Food Standards Agency report for the outlet (it was satisfactory).

Your headline reports just what your friend said: that the particular outlet was serving food that was hours old, and breaking its own guidelines in the process.

You have a quote from your friend, who is named, and her position as an employee of the fast food chain is mentioned. She is fine with this.

You seek a reaction from both the outlet and the fast food chain’s central office. Both refuse to comment, and you have included that in your article.

The questions

  1. What are the legal issues here – and what tests need to be met for them to be an issue?
  2. What defence could you mount?
  3. How likely is it that legal action would result?
  4. Would you publish – and why?

‘Answers’ and discussion in the comments

Launch of new survey on the legal experiences and views of journalists and online publishers

A new survey for journalists, bloggers and online publishers, which can be found at this link, aims to collect information about their experiences of and views on libel and privacy law

A system of arbitration is at the heart of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, and different versions are included in the the government’s draft Royal Charter and the industry’s own proposals [PDF].

The suggestion is that an arbitration service could deal with libel and privacy complaints that would otherwise go to court.

Last minute amendments to the Crime and Courts bill (now Act) would allow for bloggers to opt into the regulatory arbitration system and receive costs benefits.

Additionally and separately, recommendations have also been made for Mediation and Early Resolution in defamation disputes.

However, there is very little solid data about the nature and quantity of legal claims made against the media, including small bloggers. Because the majority of libel claims, for example, are believed to be resolved out of court, there is no complete record of disputes.

In short, little is known about bloggers’ and journalists’ actual legal experiences and opinions.

In an effort to build a better picture and to help inform the development of new alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, I am launching a survey as the final part of my doctoral project at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London.

This questionnaire is open to all types of journalists and online writers who expect their readership to be predominantly based in England and/or Wales.

Please take part and share your experiences and encourage your colleagues and friends to participate as well.

All data will be collected anonymously with no identification of organisations or individuals.

The questionnaire can be found here:

Many thanks for your help! If you have any questions you can email me: (judith.townend.1@city.ac.uk) or tweet  (@jtownend).

About the project

This survey is part of Judith Townend’s doctoral project at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London. The research project, which has been given ethical approval by the CLJJ, explores how journalists and online writers are affected by libel and privacy law, as well as other social and legal factors. It will draw attention to the issues faced by online writers and journalists, and help inform the development of resources in this area.

About this questionnaire

  • The questionnaire is open to all types of journalists and online writers who expect their readership to be predominantly based in England and/or Wales.
  • It should take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete, depending on your experiences and views. Some questions require an answer so you can be taken to the next relevant question.
  • All data will be collected anonymously with no identification of organisations or individuals.
  • The information you have submitted will included in a final report to be published in 2013/14, which may be used for future online and print publications.
  • Please contact Judith Townend with any questions, or to obtain the final results.

Contact details:

Judith Townend, c/o Peter Aggar, Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University London, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB, Tel: +44 (0)20 7040 8167

E-mail: judith.townend.1@city.ac.uk

How to deal with a PR man who emails like a lawyer

There’s a fascinating case study going on across some skeptics blogs on dealing with legal threats from another country.

The Quackometer and Rhys Morgan have – among others – received emails from Marc Stephens, who claims to “represent” the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, Texas, and threatens them with legal action for libel, among other things.

What is notable is how both have researched both Stephens and the law, and composed their responses accordingly. From Rhys Morgan:

“I have carried out some internet research, and I have not been able to establish whether or not Mr. Stephens is a lawyer; certainly he does not appear to be a member of the California Bar nor the Texas Bar in the light of my visit to the California Bar Association’s and the State Bar of Texas’s websites.”

From Quackometer:

“This foam-flecked angry rant did not look like the work of a lawyer to me. And indeed it is not. Marc Stephens appears to work for Burzynski in the form of PR, marketing and sponsorship.”

There’s plenty more in each post, including reference to case law and the pre-action defamation protocol, which provide plenty of material if you’re ever in a similar situation – or hosting a classroom discussion on libel law.

via Neurobonkers

When is an online comment defamatory?

Rob Minto looks at two recent cases that leave the field of libel online as confusing as ever.

For several years, newspapers, bloggers and other online publishers have been waiting for a landmark case to clarify defamation online.

The unanswered questions have been along the lines of: who’s responsible – the author or publisher (or even ISP)? What jurisdiction will it fall in? What kind of audience is required (if at all?)

In the UK, in quick succession, there have been two cases which have, if anything, muddied the waters. Continue reading

Libel advice for bloggers

Sense About Science – along with a whole raft of other organisations* – have published a libel guide for bloggers: ‘So you’ve had a threatening letter. What can you do?’ Below is the animated button they’ve created that practically begs you to click it and download the PDF.

I’m curious why they haven’t published it as a series of webpages to make it easier to find via search, and to link to – maybe I’m missing something. In the meantime, the PDF is well worth a download.

*Index on Censorship, English PEN, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Association of British Science Writers and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

Presentation: Law for bloggers and journalists (UK)

Yesterday I hosted a session on law for my MA Online Journalism students, which I thought I would embed below.

Some background: I teach all my sessions in a coffee shop in central Birmingham – anyone can drop in. This week I specifically invited local bloggers, and so the shape of the presentation was very much flavoured by contributions from The Lichfield Blog‘s Philip John; Nick Booth from Podnosh and BeVocal; Talk About Local‘s Nicky Getgood; Hannah Waldram of the Bournville Village BlogGavin Wray, Matthew Mark, and Mike Rawlins of Stoke’s Pits N Pots. The editor of the Birmingham Post Marc Reeves also came for an hour to share his own experiences in the regional press.

Two things occurred to me during the process of preparation and delivery of the session. The first is that law in this context is much broader: as well as the classic areas for journalists such as defamation, you have to take into account online publishing issues such as terms and conditions, data protection and user generated content.

Secondly, I’ve long been an advocate of conversational teaching styles (one of the reasons I teach in a coffee lounge) and this was a great example of that in practice. The presentation below is just a series of signposts – the actual session lasted 4 hours and included various tangents (some of which I’ve incorporated into this published version). Experiences in the group of students and guests ranged across broadcasting, print, photography, online publishing, academic study, and international law, and I came out of the session having learned a lot too.

I hope you can add some more points, examples, or anything I’ve missed. Here it is: