Journalists and the Media are usually protected from defamation claims by “privilege” when they are reporting on public court proceedings.
Partner & Head of Media Law Reputation Management
This privilege is vital to allow the Media to do its job of publicising court cases, because despite the fact that many things that are said in court have defamatory meanings, in a society that has open justice the Media should be able to report upon court cases and how they are conducted. Such court reporting allows cases, judges, courts, and those who participate in proceedings to be placed under public scrutiny. A reporter of court proceedings represents the public, as their eyes and ears.
Sometimes though journalists who are reporting on court cases simply get their facts wrong. If an article reporting on court proceedings is not “fair and accurate”, the defence of privilege will fall away.
What is Fair and Accurate?
Court reports do not have to be verbatim in their coverage of court proceedings. Summaries of court proceedings can still be privileged, provided they give correct and just impressions of what took place in court. This means that they must provide substantially fair accounts of what took place in the court. They must convey to the reader the same impression they would have had if the reader themselves had been sitting in court.
Slight inaccuracies in court reporting are immaterial, if the whole report provides a substantially accurate account of what happened in the proceedings. Reports in the Media of court proceedings are not judged by the same strict standard of accuracy as reports by lawyers. A fair and reasonable latitude is given to the Media, otherwise publications would lose their safe vantage point from which to report on court proceedings.
Privilege does not apply however to court reports that contain substantial inaccuracies, even if these were caused by honest mistakes of the journalist.
We Can Help
At MW Solicitors our mission is "To make quality legal services accessible to everyone", including people who are referred to in Media coverage of court proceedings. We can, for instance, advise upon whether court reports are fair and accurate, and whether a journalist or Media outlet is likely to be protected by the law of privilege in relation to them.