Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Legal: Canada Court Expands "Public Interest Responsible Journalism" Libel Defence

The Supreme Court of Canada has caught up with jurisprudence on libel issues in other countries with a pair of key rulings today. (See the rulings here and here.) The judgments give journalists more room to defend stories in court with the argument of "responsible communication on matters of public interest." This defence applies where the story is of public interest and the publisher "was diligent in trying to verify the allegation."
In establishing the latter, juries are invited to consider the seriousness of the allegation, the public importance and urgency of the topic, the status and reliability of the source, whether the plaintiff's side of the story was sought and accurately reported, whether inclusion of the defamatory statement was justifiable and "whether the defamatory statement's public interest lay in the fact that it was made rather than its truth."

The court clarified that even if some statements in a story are defamatory and untrue, the piece will be found to be responsible if the statements are attributed to someone (preferably someone identified), the report indicates that its truth hasn't been verified, both sides of the dispute are depicted fairly and the report provides the context in which the statements were made.

Here is a CBC story on the rulings.