BROADCASTING LAW – DEFAMATION
BROADCASTING LAW – DEFAMATION
Anyone broadcasting via Centre Radio is responsible for what they say and agree to indemnify Centre Radio against all legal costs caused by their on-air comments.
What is Defamation?
Any statements that harms a person’s reputation or makes an ordinary listener think worse of any person, group or company.
What Sort of Statements?
Saying or suggesting that someone is:
- Guilty of a crime;
- Has behaved improperly;
- Calling people dishonest, a liar, a coward, a drunk, saying they have low morals;
- Saying that a person, firm or company is in financial difficulty or bankrupt;
- Calling someone incompetent or unfit for their job;
- Making someone look ridiculous;
- Saying anything that could make other people avoid or even pity them – such as, they are insane or have an infectious disease.
- You can defame someone even when you don’t mention their name if listeners can guess who you mean.
- You can defame someone even when what you are saying is true.
If someone thinks you have harmed their reputation they can sue you for defamation. They do not have to prove you have defamed them. You have to
prove you have not (and this can be both stressful and ruinously expensive).
You cannot defame a dead person, but if what you say hurts their living relatives, they can sue you.
How Can We Express our Point of View?
Be fair and accurate. If there are two sides to a story – say so.
You may make “fair comment” but it must be clear you are giving an opinion and
not stating a fact.
Gather a list of introductory phrases, for example, “I think”, “It seems to me”, “In my opinion”, “It looks to me as if….”.
If your genuine opinion is that someone is, for example, dishonest, you must have the facts to prove it. Your comments must be in the public interest, which usually means you can’t talk about people’s private lives.
You cannot defame if you had the person’s permission to say what you said.
The following excuses are no defence in law.
- I made a mistake.
- I got it out of the newspaper (you will both be sued).
- Someone else told me it was true and I believed them.
- I said it was just a rumour – I didn’t say it was true. (but you said it).
- If you get the facts wrong, you have no legal defence against an action in law.
- You don’t have to name someone to defame them.
- You can also defame a company if it can prove your comment is likely to cause financial loss.
- You can also commit defamation if you criticise a group of people (they could all sue you).
- Discuss the issue or the action, never the person.
Important: Producers and presenters are responsible for what other people say on their show during talkback or interviews.
Contempt of Court
You are in contempt of court if:
- You fail to obey a court order such as name suppression, or an order not to broadcast certain information.
- You abuse or unreasonably criticise a judge.
- You broadcast anything likely to prejudice a fair trial.
- When commenting on an active trial you can only talk about what was said in court. If the jury heard it in court you can talk about it. If they didn’t then you can’t.
Observing the Basic Standards
You are bound by New Zealand Broadcasting Standards. The three main ones are:
- Observing good taste and decency.
- Maintaining law and order.
- The privacy of the individual.
If You Have to Defend Yourself in Court
What you said on air is presented on paper and out of context. An audio recording of what you said is not always permitted in court. So, even if you said something as a joke, this will not always be obvious in your defence.
Prepared from the text of “A Journalist’s Guide To The Law” by Professor John burrows. The book is well worth reading.