#LectureNotes: BASIC MEDIA LAW ON DEFAMATION AND LIBEL
While studying media law is very tedious for radio presenters, it’s probably the most important thing a radio presenter has to learn.
Here, we’ll learn about defamation, libel and slander. If you guide yourself by these basic rules, you’ll be ok.
The Three Terms Most Used
Defamation, libel and slander.
What Is Defamation?
Defamation is the law’s way of protecting ‘reputation.’ It’s merely the posh word for ‘ruining someone’s credibility or ruining their reputation.’ Try and think of defamation this way. It makes it easier to understand.
Defamation = the posh word for ruining someone’s ‘reputation.’
Media law books define defamation as “exposing another individual to hatred, ridicule or contempt. The written statement/spoken word has caused the individual to be shunned or avoided.”
The Two Forms of Defamation
Defamation comes in two forms. You can ‘defame’ someone by either libel or by slander.
Defamation = Libel and Slander
Libel and slander are pretty similar. One is for the written (or broadcast) word, and one is for the spoken word (in public). However, both terms deal with affecting someone’s ‘reputation.’
Think of defamation (this could be libel or slander) as affecting someone’s ‘reputation.’
Slander is where I ruin your ‘reputation’ by the spoken word in public. Someone overhears me saying: “David is a thief, and he steals money”. The person who heard my statement now believes David is a thief.
Is It True?
If my statement is; however, false, I have now ruined David’s reputation. People may not do business with David because of what I’ve said. If what I’ve said has ruined David’s reputation, he can now sue me for slander. If I can’t prove what I said (under Nigerian law), then I will lose the law case (and a lot of money.)
Libel: This Is What Radio Presenters Need
Libel is very similar to slander. Only this time, libel is where I ruin your ‘reputation‘ by the written word or by the broadcast word. Libel incorporates websites, forums, emails, TV, and radio shows etc. (as they are a form of permanent record).
Watch What You Say and Write
Don’t accuse anyone or any company etc. of anything you can’t prove. Don’t say or write anything (on social media) that can ruin the ‘reputation’ of a person/company etc.
You say on your radio show: “Mr Biggs website is a scam”.
Audience’s Response: Ok, we won’t do business with Mr Biggs or Patronise them.
Your Up and Coming Law Case
Mr Biggs now sues you for libel (the statement was made on the radio).Your comment has lowered the company (Mr Biggs) in the estimation of “right thinking people” (the audience or people who may do business with Mr Biggs). Your written statement/spoken word has now affected Mr Biggs’ business.
Now, it’s time for you to get a lawyer. Because if Mr Bigs decides to sue, they will sue you and your radio station.
Under the law, it’s down to YOU to prove your statement is TRUE in a court of law.
If I say, “Mr David’s business lies to its customers.” I could be sued by Mr David if this statement is NOT TRUE. Why? Well, these words could cause David’s ‘reputation’ harm.
People may not want to do business with him after hearing these words. Simply put; they may not trust him now. And if they don’t trust him, then his reputation has been ruined.
If your statement is NOT TRUE and affects ‘reputation’, you can be sued for libel.
I’ll say it again….
If you call someone (or a company) a thief, a fraud, a liar etc. on social media, on a website, the radio or TV etc. and you can’t prove your statement, you could get sued for a lot of money.
If you CAN’T prove this statement, then this = a law case.
Before you open your mouth or tweet your comment, THINK!
Will the ‘statement’ affect someone’s ‘reputation?’
IF IN DOUBT, CUT IT OUT!
Guests and Libel
Even if you haven’t personally libelled someone, you can still get sued for what was said on your show. This is because your guest has committed libel and you’ve missed it.
Always monitor what your guests say as well.
Just because something has been written in a national newspaper or it’s online, doesn’t mean it’s always safe to use. Newspapers have got it wrong in the past and they’ve been sued many times. Check your sources before you make the statement.
Information on the Internet
Hearing or seeing something written somewhere else doesn’t make it true. Just because it’s on the internet DOES NOT make it TRUE.
To protect yourself is relatively easy. Don’t make anything up. Check your sources and then check again. If two or more official “news agencies” (e.g. the BBC, Reuters, etc.) are covering the same story, then it’s likely to be safe.
If in doubt, CUT IT OUT!
If your guest makes a libellous statement, you must immediately distance yourself and the station from the offending comment. Doing this straightaway will limit the potential damage. It may even result in the case not going to court if the person trusts you have acted promptly to limit the damage.
What to Do When Your Guest Libels Someone
If you think your guest’s comment is libellous, then immediately ask your guest to retract their comment. Something like: “I’m afraid we can’t say that on air Mr X, will you please retract that statement.” Next, quickly round up the interview. We do this because we don’t want our guest to repeat their comment. Make no mention of the libellous comment and ensure that you and your station do not seem to agree with the comment. Apologize on behalf of the station (without repeating the comment) and then move on. If it’s a phone in and someone says something libellous, cut them off straight away, distance yourself and the station from the comment and move on.
Defences to Libel
‘Justification’ or in Other Words: The Truth
If you can prove that the statement is true, and you have evidence which you can bring to a court of law to show that X did do Y, then you will be safe.
The defence of fair comment allows an honest person to express an opinion even if it’s “prejudiced, exaggerated or obstinate”. This can be a tricky defence so tread carefully. For example, a music review or a film review can be opinionated and negative without falling foul of the law.
Your comment must be about a topic in the public interest.
It must be based on truthful facts.
It must be viewed as a comment and not as a statement of fact.
If your comment seems like a statement of fact and it does affect someone’s reputation, it could get you sued. So, be careful.