A guide to legal challenges faced by journalists

There are many legal challenges a journalist can face. Whether you are a blogger, Guardian columnist or local news reporter. You are all governed by the same ethics and laws. In a report by the Ethical Journalism Network, it was found that facts and informed opinion seems to be taking a backseat in ‘our post-truth era’.

There is no doubt journalists are under increasing pressure to deliver captivating news stories. We have access to platforms and news channels reporting stories around the clock. It is a journalists ethical responsibility to report without bias and to cover a story in the most neutral way possible. To do this, it is important to include factual evidence. With information at our finger tips, it is no secret journalists will do whatever it takes to get the latest scoop. But, journo’s need to be careful, if you cross an ethical line you are at risk for being involved in a career ruining law case.

Privacy Law

“Anything that’s out there in the public, you’re welcome to report on,” — Christy Foley

Journalists must respect privacy. But they also have a duty to report a story in a thorough and rigorous way, especially in the interest of the public. This means that in some instances it will be deemed necessary for a journalist to carry out an investigation which invades someones privacy. The privacy laws exist to protect people’s private lives. We could argue that privacy is more of an ethical issue rather than legal. However at what point does a story become an interest for the public? Who really is to say what is in the publics interest?

As a journalist you must be clear about your own motives. Do not have any personal interest in an investigation that invades a persons privacy.

“you must stay on public property unless you’re invited on to private property, otherwise you’re trespassing.” — Christy Foley

There have been many cases over the years where celebrities have filed lawsuits against tabloids and news organisations over invasions of privacy. An example of this was George and Amal Clooney after a french photographer for the french magazine Voici allegedly climbed a tree outside the couples property in Italy in order to take pics of their children.

(Source: Ok Magazine online)

Clooney told E! News “Make no mistake — the photographers, the agency and the magazine will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The safety of our children demands it.”

Copyright and Intellectual Property

Another legal challenge faced by journalists is the use of images. The easiest way to avoid copy write issues is simple.

Don’t use an image without proper permission or credit. The key to being a good reporter is finding your own story and tracking down the information yourself.

“You need to be out there in the field, getting the interviews, talking to people, and taking your own photos,” says Foley, “or you must credit whoever did go out there and make the effort to get the story.”

It is also very important for bloggers to abide with these rules, they cannot take pictures from google and put it on their sites.

Avoid the stress. Credit properly.


Defamation is defined as the making of a false statement concerning a person or business that damages that persons businesses reputation. It can be quite easy for a journalist to get caught up in a defamation case. It is important when reporting a story that all facts are checked.

“Fact- check everything”- Christy Foley

There are two types of defamation: libel and slander.

Libel is defined as a published defamation of character. Libel in definition is false. If a news story is damaging to a persons reputation but is in fact accurate, then it cannot be libelous.

Slander is when the defamatory comment is spoken rather than published. Slander generally refers to spreading falsehood in saying something or even in other transitory methods like online chat discussions.

Here are some examples of celebrity defamation cases:

Keira Knightly sued the Daily Mail in a defamation case for £3000 after the paper posted a photo of the actress claiming she had anorexia. Knightly donated the money to an eating disorder charity.

Katie Holmes settled a law suit against celebrity magazine The Star for £40m after stating the actress was a drug addict.

Melanie Trump also filed defamation action in the New York state commercial court and in the UK High court against the Daily Mail after allegations that she previously worked as an escort. She got 150 million dollars in damages.

A defamation case can equal big bux.

Beholding truth is key. Truth is the simple yet strongest defence for defamation. As a journalist if you are 100% sure what you’re writing is true than need not worry about defamation case coming your way.