Monday, August 07, 2006

What are defamation and libel?

Quick Facts for our Local Journalists

Defamation is any published material that damages the reputation of an individual or an organisation. This covers material on the internet as well as radio and television broadcasts - so even drama and fiction can be defamatory if they damage someone’s reputation. You can only publish defamatory material if it comes within one of the recognised legal defences. If it doesn’t, the publication will amount to libel and you may have to pay substantial damages.Libel online
Slander is 'defamation by word of mouth'
Internet sites are not exempt from any libel laws. If you are publishing on the internet you are bound by the same libel laws as print publishers. In a significant ruling in 2002, the Australian high court ruled that mining magnate Joseph Gutnick could sue publisher Dow Jones under Australian law for alleged libel online. The judge deemed that the web was no different from newspapers or television. In the UK, internet service providers are coming under increasing pressure to close sites containing defamatory allegations. You also have to be careful about the comments others post on your site. There have been cases where individuals have sued online publishers for libel over customer book reviews published on their sites. Such developments have implications for freedom of expression.The purpose of libel law Libel law protects individuals or organisations from unwarranted, mistaken or untruthful attacks on their reputation. A person is libelled if a publication:
Exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt
Causes them to be shunned or avoided
Discredits them in their trade, business or profession
Generally lowers them in the eyes of right thinking members of society For example, MORAL rights campaigner Victoria Gillick recently won a £5,000 settlement and an apology after taking libel action against the Brook Advisory Centre, a charity which gives sex advice to young people, over allegations that Brook had suggested Mrs Gillick "bore a moral responsibility" for an increase in pregnancies among teenagers. A fact sheet published by Brook contained the heading "What caused the teenage conception rate to rise in the 1980s?", and listed a legal action brought by Mrs Gillick against the Department of Health over contraception guidelines as one of the causes.

Courtesy of Action Network at