3. Libel and the Newsroom

If the story included the Facebook profile and it turned out to be the wrong person then the National Post would be at risk of a libel suit. [1] There is also the potential to severely damage a person’s reputation.

Although the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication,” [2] there are limitations to this right, one of which is libel law.

Libel is a form of defamation that exists in a permanent form, such as print, broadcast, radio or the Internet. What constitutes a statement as libelous is if it is an untrue statement that lowers a person’s reputation. [3]

Defamation laws vary from province to province, but they can all result in a news organization having to pay someone money in damages. [4]

In terms of defenses against libel, news organizations have a few options: truth, qualified privilege, fair comment and responsible communication on matters of public interest. [5]

But libel in the newsroom goes beyond the written or spoken word and can include pictures. Lawyer Peter Downard defended the plaintiff in a case where a person sued a news organization for libel for using his picture in a story about a person who sexually assaulted a child, who happened to have the same name as him. [6] In that case the plaintiff was wrongfully implicated in a crime that he did not commit, which is exactly what Hudes is trying to avoid.

Watch: Peter Downard explains the risk of publishing information that can cause personal harm to innocent people.

[1] Iris Fischer interview by Avneet Dhillon, David Greenberg and Kayla Rosen, November 30, 2016.

[2] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, s 2, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.

[3] “Defamation, Libel and Slander: What Are My Rights to Free Expression?” Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, accessed December 2, 2016, http://www.cjfe.org/defamation_libel_and_slander_what_are_my_rights_to_free_expression

[4] “Defamation, Libel and Slander: What Are My Rights to Free Expression?” Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, accessed December 2, 2016, http://www.cjfe.org/defamation_libel_and_slander_what_are_my_rights_to_free_expression

[5] “Defamation, Libel and Slander: What Are My Rights to Free Expression?” Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, accessed December 2, 2016, http://www.cjfe.org/defamation_libel_and_slander_what_are_my_rights_to_free_expression

[6] Peter Downard interview by Avneet Dhillon, David Greenberg and Kayla Rosen, November 30, 2016.

Next: 4. Responsible Communication on Matters of Public Interest

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