December 3, 2012

I’ve been teaching libel law to my community journalism students for over four years now.

Each session I outline the rules of defamation, explain how scary it might be to be sued for libel and give them some common sense advice. When I first started teaching this part of my course, many people seemed bemused. Several said;”It doesn’t count on a website, does it?” Others seemed to think if they were only telling their friends and family on their blog, it didn’t really count. Just four years ago, most of my students hadn’t even signed up for Twitter.

So it’s been a strange experience recently as I’ve taught this session in two courses running at the moment. For the first time, the Lord McAlpine Twitter story has illustrated how everyone needs to be careful of what they write when they publish.  My small groups of students have all been concerned about the dangers of libel and none of them have dismissed anything online as not important.

To be honest, teaching law for journalism and trying to keep it simple is difficult at the moment. The Leveson Report,  super-injunctions and now the Lord McAlpine scandal illustrates how the law is struggling to keep up with the change in how we receive our media. I think it’s good to keep the common sense approach in all you publish.  Double-check everything for accuracy and never publish anything you don’t know – and can prove – is true.

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