Media law essential life skill
Free speech brings with it great individual responsibility. The law is straightforward. You shouldn't defame or slander an individual or organisation. The Savile case has brought this into sharp focus in the last week. Lord McApline, incorrectly identified as a paedophile following BBC Newsnight, has said that he will pursue a civil case against anyone that defamed him on Twitter.
Prior to McApline’s action conventional wisdom dictated that it wasn’t possible to uphold media law on the internet.
So called super injunctions, preventing the media from publishing the details a story, or even the existence of the injunction, have been broken by Twitter users in the past without legal retribution.
Danger in numbers The Twitter mob relied on the sheer number of individuals republishing a message making legal action impossible. But Lord McAlpine’s action has brought this mistaken belief to an abrupt end.
The Tory peer has launched a legal challenge against an estimated 10,000 Twitter users. According to PR Week the vast majority are being asked to make a formal apology and donation to charity, while high profile users face litigation.
Journalist turned communication practitioner Howard Walker commented on Twitter recently that its time that the rudiments of media law were taught in school.
I called him up and asked him to explain what he meant.
“The McAlpine case illustrates a desperate and dangerous lack of knowledge about how the law of libel applies to online communications, particularly social media,” said Walker.
Like many UK journalists Walker received his education on the issue from McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. He says that the section on libel should be required reading for all communications professionals and social media users in general.
Basic education in media law “The basic point is that it is the publisher of a defamatory statement who is liable for prosecution. Instead of the newspaper publisher or the broadcaster in the firing line, the Twitter user is, especially when a tweet can be read by millions around the world.”
“This is such a fundamental issue for balancing reputation with freedom of speech online that I believe this element of McNae’s should be part of the National Curriculum,” said Walker.
As a former Trinity Mirror journalist who now manages public relations for a law firm, Walker is acutely aware of the issue.
“Incorporate it into personal and social education or information technology lessons in secondary schools and you will have a more informed, and more responsible, generation of social media users,” he added.
Walker has offer to write a more detailed guest blog about this issue. Watch this space.