For the second series of sessions in this year’s conference, I was given the opportunity to attend one hosted by Steven Brown, legal practitioner and director of Lynn and Brown Lawyers. He provided those of us attending with a very important aspect of broadcast media; legality. More to the point, we were given a lesson on defamation.
In an age where news media is expected to be released at a rate that matches the fast and continuous consumption levels of those of us living in the internet age, ensuring that comments stated on the air or written in text are factual and non-defamatory is of utmost importance. Mr Brown explains several of the nuances of the issue, such as the differences betwen libel and slander, and some of the potential defences of defamation accusations.
Truth or justification, statement of opinion, absolute privelege, qualified privelege, innnocent dissemination, triviality, consent, and apology and offer of ammends are presented as possible defences, he explains, with warnings of malicious intent affecting the ability to use certain aforementioned defences.
While such things may be clear to those who have been educated in the industry, this is important for anyone wanted to enter or continue in broadcast media. Despite the dangers of litigation, roughly 4% of cases are brought to trial. Nonetheless, Mr Brown stresses, the proceedings are particularly costly, and are best avoided. More notably, the proportion of digital defamation cases has increased between 2013 and 2017, further highlighting the increased dangers of unchecked statements, especially with the power and spread of social media.
Mr Brown was very helpful in explaining some of the statistics and specifics of dematory cases and accusations in recent Australian legal history. Of potentially greater relevence was the information provided regarding Twitter; not only the making of statements, but the sharing or ‘retweeting’ of defamatory statements on the platform can be cause for litigation. Even comments made about a surgeon, or particularly scathing restaurant reviews, have led to successful lawsuits depending on how they’re handled. Even if the contents of a statement or article are considered factually correct, there has been cases where the headlines can be cause for defamation accusations if they misrepresent the facts or plaintiff.
It seems it would be cheaper to remain silent, at times.