Thanks to the Defamation Act 2013, celebrity journalist commonly face lawsuits from celebrities, claiming that they have provided false information and therefore tarnished their reputation.
If you follow my Facebook page, you should see the recent post I posted regarding Rebel Wilson’s court case about Bauer Media defaming her, claiming that she is not who she says she is. She made history in the world of celebrity journalism when she filed lawsuits against Bauer Media. According to Rebel’s lawyers, the amount she had won 4 times the amount of the highest award in the history of defamation case.
Of course, Rebel Wilson’s case only applies to Australia, and perhaps only change Australia’s celebrity journalism industry. Now, what about the UK? Do we have any laws that protect these famous personality from being defamed after all the hard work that has been put into building their public reputation?
Yes, we do. It is called the Defamation Act 2013. It is one of the most common legal issues journalists face when come under pressure to be the first one with “exclusive” information.
What is the Defamation Act 2013?
The Defamation Act 2013 is an Act of the UK parliament that aims to “reform the law of defamation to ensure that a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of reputation”. It is an amended law after the Law of Defamation, in favor of protecting “clearer, better protection for people publicly expressing opinions”.
This key areas of this Act in relation to celebrity journalism includes:
1. Serious harm must be caused
The victim of defamation has to prove that serious consequences were or will likely to be faced as a result of the publication. This protects the publication or journalists if the webpage or print did not generate enough clicks or sell enough copies.
2. Public Interest Defence
The defendant of the case will have to justify that he/she/they had the public’s interest in mind when publishing the material. Defendants will have to provide evidence to prove that thorough steps were taken to verify the facts and the material was written objectively.
3. Time limit
The victim of a potential act of defamation has a one-year limit to take legal actions against the accused, starting from the day the article is published to the public.
Why is the Defamation Act 2013 a legal issue commonly faced by entertainment journalist?
Although this newly amended defamation law provides more protection for journalists to practice their freedom of speech and conduct their jobs as journalists, to provide information to the public about the world around them, it is still undeniable that this law is still a common legal issue journalists face.
When a journalist is under time pressure to produce a piece of article that can gain high readership for a publication company, ethicality may be blurred.
In Rebel Wilson’s case, the fake news provided by the anonymous informant was initially ignored by the publication due to the fact that the informant was unreliable. However, after the Pitch Perfect movie’s, where Rebel Wilson starred in, success, the publication company decided to publish the information despite acknowledging potential legal risk.
Because of the sake of gaining readership, a series of magazine publication under Bauer Media decided to foresee the legal issues, and consequently ruined Rebel’s acting career.
“Just when I think about every single day since I was an adult working for something and then here is a group of people I don’t know who just want to rip me to shreds on information that they know is false and that they know they shouldn’t print. I just don’t know why they would do it and to this day they haven’t apologised and, you know, they haven’t said why they’ve done this. Sorry.” — Rebel Wilson
Foley, a professor of New Media Journalism’s Master program in Full Sail University, mentioned from his experience in MSNBC control room.
“I remember I was in the MSNBC control room during a live news broadcast when the London tube bombings went off in 2005, and we were scrambling to call everyone we knew in the London bureau to get people to verify what had happened, because you don’t want to be the last one on the air with the information. You wind up trickling information to your viewers instead of giving them one complete story.” — Foley, in a statement at FSBLOG
Unfortunately, there are no tricks to provide a juicy story under time pressure and readership stress. However, there are tips and tricks to avoid being sued over defamation.
How can journalist avoid being sued for defamation?
Journalists face defamation legal issue mainly because they’ve written something that reflects negatively on a public personality. So it is necessary to be wary of your actions (and words) to avoid being sued.
- Check your sources
It may be tempting to get your words in immediately after you get a call from someone telling you that Kylie Jenner is pregnant. Don’t. It is important to check whether the person tipping off such information is a reliable person. Obviously you don’t write the story when it is just a lady driving by and caught a glimpse of Kylie’s baby bump (who knows?! It could just be a food baby).
And you definitely need to be extra wary when the source has a vendetta against the subject. So you definitely do not pick up your pen immediately when your source is Blac Chyna.
*As you can tell, I’m very knowledgeable about the Kardashian/Jenner drama.
2. Get evidence to back it up
Do not rely on the words from your informant. Get other evidence that could back up what your informant said. “Having multiple sources for your information lends credence to the assertions you make, and can provide ‘safety in numbers’” Adrianos Facchetti mentioned.
3. Verify the accuracy
It is important for journalists to contact the subject of the story in order to be seen favorable in the eyes of the jury if ever sued. This is the best possible way to check your facts.
4. Be careful of what you write
As a journalist, you are limited with a certain word count. This might lead you to omit crucial detail that might cause a false impression or interpretation. It is essential to convey the true story and watch out for edits that could mislead your audience.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself and start saying someone is guilty when all of the facts haven’t been confirmed,” Foley advised. “You have to make sure you say ‘allegedly,’ or even ‘police are reporting so-and-so…’ Phrases like that really come in handy.”
It is best not to publish anything that can’t be proven factual at all.