4. Responsible Communication on Matters of Public Interest

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In this situation, responsible communication on matters of public interest would be the best defence if the National Post were to get sued for libel. [1]

This defence, adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2009, allows journalists reporting on information that is in the public interest the ability to be wrong. Essentially, as long as a journalist did everything in their power to report fully on a story, but some aspects ended up being wrong, they can use the defence of responsible communication. [2]

In order for a story to use this defence it has to be on a matter of public interest, which means information that has some sort of societal importance. The judge must also look at the story as a whole and not just the defamatory statement. [3]

The court has compiled a list of factors to be considered when deeming whether a news organization acted responsibly, which includes:

  • The seriousness of the allegation;
  • The public importance and urgency of the matter;
  • The reliability and status of the source;
  • Whether the person’s side of the story was sought and reported fully;
  • Whether using the statement is justifiable;
  • Whether the statement’s importance lay in the accuracy or the fact that it was reported;
  • Any other relevant factors. [4]

This defence applies to journalists, bloggers and anyone else reporting information that is in the public interest, but does not give someone the right to simply ruin someone’s reputation. [5] Media lawyer Iris Fischer says that, in writing a story on a matter of public interest, journalists should be clear when the information they are sharing is an allegation rather than a statement of fact.

Watch: Iris Fischer explains how the responsible communication defence may give journalists the right to be wrong.

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

[2] Dean Jobb, “The responsible communication defence: What’s in it for journalists?” J-Source: The Canadian Journalism Project, December 23, 2009.

[3] Dean Jobb, “The responsible communication defence: What’s in it for journalists?” J-Source: The Canadian Journalism Project, December 23, 2009.

[4] Dean Jobb, “The responsible communication defence: What’s in it for journalists?” J-Source: The Canadian Journalism Project, December 23, 2009.

[5] Dean Jobb, “The responsible communication defence: What’s in it for journalists?” J-Source: The Canadian Journalism Project, December 23, 2009.

Next: 5. Journalism and Contempt of Court

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