How Does Defamation Law Affect Journalism in the UK?

There are a lot of different areas that make up defamation law, but it all comes down to the fact that journalists should avoid making defamatory statements. Failing to do so could lead to a legal trial, as well as considerable financial damages and legal fees. This is why journalists in the UK need to be extremely wary about making defamatory statements or any statement that could, on the off chance, be considered defamatory in a court of law. However, as defamation law is complex, this isn’t always easy.

What is a Defamatory Statement?

When we are talking about a business, a statement is considered to be defamatory if it could affect sales or profit. However, when we’re talking about a person, this isn’t as straightforward. A defamatory statement made about a person is considered defamatory if it exposes them to hatred or ridicule, or if it could lead to them being avoided or shunned by others. A statement is also considered to be defamatory if it could lower the estimation of that person in the eyes of the public. If a journalist does run into legal trouble after making a defamatory statement, there are some defences.

Are There Defences for a Defamatory Statement?

If a statement is viewed to be defamatory and the journalist disagrees, they could use one of three defences to argue their case. These are Truth, Honest Comment and Privilege.

  • By using Truth, the journalist simply argues that the statement was not defamatory and it was in fact a truthful reporting. However, this is often a difficult defence as it is based solely on the journalist proving that their statement was true.
  • By using Honest Comment, the journalist argues that the statement was their honest opinion on a subject of public importance. This is a defence that’s mainly used by those who write reviews and opinion pieces, as they can claim that their honest opinion provides important information for others on a specific matter.
  • By using Privilege, the journalist argues their right to report whatever is said even though it may be defamatory. There are certain situations where Privilege is allowed. For example, journalists have the right to report whatever is said in a courtroom, even if it is defamatory.

As defamation law in the UK can be complex it’s often best to seek the help of legal professionals, such as those here at Audley Chaucer, when a problem arises.

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