The Office of Communications – or ‘Ofcom’ – regulate commercial television, radio stations and on-demand video in the United Kingdom. The regulatory authority does this by issuing fines to media organisations for breaching regulations and closing down illegal broadcasters; Ofcom can shut down commercial broadcasters when justified.
Rules are put in place by Ofcom which broadcast journalists are required to follow or face the consequences from their employers – failure to adhere to the rules will result in sanctions from Ofcom. A critical rule is that all political news is to be broadcasted impartially, that being said there is no expectation of the journalist, specifically, to be politically neutral.
Formed in 2003, Ofcom is necessary to protect the general public from manipulation, discourage any violence or tension by transmitting sensitive content to children and prohibit material likely to cause disorder in respect of religious broadcasting.
‘Public interest’ is a grey area: what some people may consider relevant information others may not, it’s subjective. The Editor’s Code, as it is known, aims to protect people directly impacted by harassment, crimes against children, sex crimes, the reporting of crime and subterfuge.
Even though the press are allowed to be present at hearings, Frances Quinn (2013) explains that courts have ‘discretionary powers to postpone or ban reporting of a case’ and from this, they stay on the edge of the rules by attempting to balance the right to free expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, against Article 6, the right to a fair trial for the sake of the coverage. However, ‘any restriction on a Convention right must be proportionate to the reason for that restriction’ (Quinn, 2013).
In contrast, the press are not allowed in some courts, an example of this could be that the courts can exclude the press where ‘justice would otherwise be impeded or prejudiced; it is necessary in the interests of any child concerned or connected with the proceedings; it is necessary for protection of a party or witness’ (Quinn, 2013). The press can put respond to this and make their claim for why they should not be excluded from the hearings but there is no route of appeal against the decision.
Organisations cannot publish anything which can lead to the identification of a victim in a sexual offense case, something which lasts a lifetime for those involved. This includes the person's name and address, their school or educational establishment, their place of work and any pictures or videos of the victim (Quinn, 2014). However, these restrictions can be lifted in two circumstances, ‘before a trial, the person accused of rape asks for restrictions to be lifted, in order to encourage people who may be needed at witnesses to come forward; at the trial, where the judge is satisfied that it would be in the public interest to remove the restrictions’ (Quinn, 2013).
With sex cases involving minors, jigsaw identification, where information from a range of different reports can be pieced together to identify the child involved is the most substantial danger for the media (Quinn, 2013). This can occur when two or more media organisations cover the same case, each may publish a report which preserved anonymity, but someone who reads, sees or hears the reports can recognise the person who should have their anonymity kept. (Dodd & Hannah, 2014)
Many magistrates believe that Youth Courts are closed courts, but this is not the case, ‘section 47 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, provides that bona fide journalists from newspapers and agencies have a right to attend proceedings’ (Quinn, 2013).
However, although rare, a court case when a young person is being prosecuted the media can identify them if the court lifts reporting restrictions. The murderers of James Bulger, a young boy from Liverpool who was led off to be killed and sexually abused, were 10 and 11 years old. The judge took the unusual step of identifying them, in part, to protect those who were up as suspects in the hearings (Frost, 2013) and because, according to the judge, “the public interest overrode the interest of the defendants”.
In the United Kingdom, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act of 1998. The Act gives effect to human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 protects your right for private and family life, home, correspondence, sexuality, body, personal identity, expression, relationships and how you protect your information.
There is often a tug-of-war between human rights and the interests of journalists, the Convention states: ‘everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent tribunal established by law’. Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent tribunal established by law. (Quinn, 2013)
Reputation is important to people and not just on a personal level; it also can carry financial weight and can affect how they are perceived in a working atmosphere. UK law states that a journalist’s right to freedom of expression may be restricted to prevent damaging of the reputation of others.
One thing that should be at the forefront of a journalist’s priorities is to actively avoid being sued for libel. The Defamation Act of 2013 set out to protect “the reputation, honour and good name of citizens” in the UK (Frost, 2015). That being considered, if claimants believe they have had their reputation damaged by a journalist and/or the organisation they work for it is within their rights to seek compensation.
The UK has civil libel laws "which prevent the publication of information about a person likely to damage his or her reputation among 'right-thinking' members of society" (Frost, 2011). As there is no exact definition of a libellous, it can be troublesome knowing how a lawsuit will culminate and as a result of that a journalist should always seek legal guidance before publishing statements that could possibly be considered defamatory.
The Defamation Act of 2013 states that plaintiffs need to prove serious harm to their reputation. (Frost, 2015). The defamation law in the UK is in place to protect one’s reputation, but libel is not directly connected to truth and accuracy. Frost (2011) explains that defamation is about damaging a reputation and reducing human dignity - that may not hang on whether the statement is true or not.
A plaintiff can sue all of those who have "communicated the libel to a third party - the writer, broadcasters, editors, producers” (Frost, 2015). The claimant must then prove the published material identifies him/her then prove the statement was published (Dodd & Hanna, 2012).
Justification of the defamatory is when "the words are true and can be proved. The problem is that although you might win in court, the cost of such a case is often not fully recovered from the other side" (Frost, 2011).
If a newspaper or journalist has unintentionally defamed a claimant, the journalist or newspaper may make an offer of amends. This is a written offer to make a correction and apology, to publish this, and pay the claimant suitable damages and legal costs (Dodd & Hanna, 2012). This offer must be made as soon as possible, because in the end, if a judge has to decide what an appropriate figure is for the claimant, the organisation may get a discount as a 'reward' for making an offer (ibid).
"News of the World only received a 40% discount after it was slow to respond to a complaint and published an apology six months after the original story" (ibid). For journalists, this is a good idea as "an agreement to settle a case for an apology or damages will extinguish the claim" (Braithwaite, 1995). The plaintiff then has "the choice of accepting the money in settlement of the action and recovering most of the legal costs, or proceeding with legal action" (ibid).
After an offer of to amend a situation, the two main remedies for defamation are injunctions and damages. The latter being the more frequented means of mending, according to Quinn (2013).
• Compensatory damages: "Calculated to repair the damage done by the defamatory statement".
• Aggravated damages: Awarded in addition to the latter where the defendant has behaved in a bad manner, and the claimant has suffered more than necessary; Exemplary damages - much like aggravated damages, "this category is for cases where a publisher's behaviour is seen as so bad it is deserving of punishment".
• Nominal damages: "Where the claimants’ right have technically been infringed but no real damage has been done".
• Contemptuous damage: "Ordered where a jury recognises the claimant has been defamed, but action should not have been brought" (Quinn, 2013). Contemptuous damages are to the value of the least valuable coin on the market (ibid).
Moreover, in order to allow the accused to have this fair trial, “the law in the UK limits what can be written about a criminal event and the arrest of a person suspected of committing it until they come to a trial. This is intended to prevent a would-be jury being adversely influenced by what is written before the trial” (Frost, 2013).
After the trial has ended full and contemporaneous report can be given with fair coverage from both sides of the court, as overage is unlikely to be fair if only the prosecution case is published, for instance. This could mean having to plan ahead to cover a trial over a long period to ensure a fair coverage.
The prohibition on publishing such photographs in connection with reports on the criminal proceedings is to be considered as an interference with the applicant's freedom of expression and information (Choo, 2012).
Journalists can publish a fair and accurate report of hearings held in public. This is protected by absolute privilege In order for this to be upheld; court reports should be published simultaneously, as soon as practicable, for example, in the first issue of a newspaper following the day's hearing (Dodd & Hannah, 2014).
Though on the occasional a newspaper may make a decision whether someone is unlikely to sue the paper. They could also use their connections with local authorities to see if a charge would come about, as if the person is charged, a libel action over pre-charge publicity is less likely because this will be outweighed by damage caused by court reports, which the media can safely publish (Dodd & Hannah, 2014).