Paths To Knowledge (dot Science)

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The New Defense of Responsible Journalism

Posted by pwl on January 9, 2010

A new ruling by the Supreme Court in Canada will allow journalists and bloggers greater protection from defamation lawsuits, establishing the new defence of responsible journalism.

If sued for defamation, journalists will be able to defend themselves by proving that they acted in the public interest and that they acted in a responsible way to gather the information. This rule will still apply even if particular facts are found to be false.” – Canadian Supreme Court Strengthens Press Freedom

This covers anyone blogging from Canada. I’m not sure [but am double checking] that this might cover Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit dot Org fame (assuming he’s resident in Canada). Certainly Stephen set’s the bar for indepth scientific blogging that goes beyond what any journalists that I’ve ever read have done (with the except of a few that have authored of books). One can aim towards Stephen McIntyre’s standards and not go wrong.

“In a landmark ruling on freedom of expression, the Supreme Court of Canada has created a new legal defence to libel lawsuits that would shield journalists who fairly and responsibly report stories of public interest.

The new defence, dubbed “responsible communication” by the country’s top court, gives greater protection to broadcasters, writers and bloggers who diligently try to verify the accuracy of information in their reports, even if every statement cannot later be proven to be true.” – The Toronto Star

This precedence has implications for other countries as well. As laws go in one country they often go in another.

In Australia and New Zealand, where the responsible journalism defence was first developed, the defence is limited to government and political matters. The Supreme Court of Canada, however, confirmed that in Canada the defence is much broader. The public has a genuine stake in knowing about many matters, ranging from science and the arts, to the environment, religion, and morality and the responsible communication defence extends to protect responsible but erroneous statements concerning all areas of social discourse in which the public has a vested interest. Further, the defence protects reports on persons who are not necessarily famous public figures, so long as the report concerns a matter of public interest.” – Lexology (see below)

Anyone seriously and responsibly reporting on climate change in Australian would be protected by their laws. Persons such as Joanne Nova would be an example of someone very professional working as an independent blogger journalist.

“Freewheeling debate on matters of public interest is to be encouraged,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in one of the two unanimous decisions. “While the law must protect reputation, the current level of protection — in effect a regime of strict liability — is not justifiable.”

The decisions created a defense against libel for “responsible communication,” which the court defined as careful reporting on matters of public interest.

The court also offered very broad suggestions for determining if a newspaper article, broadcast news report, blog posting or any other form of communication was in the public interest and thus potentially covered by the new libel defense — regardless of whether its author is a professional journalist.
New York Times

Accuracy in blog postings can make a big difference. When not sure say so and site sources when possible is always a good measure.

Of course there are some other valuable and interesting points of view to consider. The investigative journalism in professional newspapers and broadcasting companies are being hard hit (over ten of Canada’s newspapers owned by CanWest have just been put up on the corporate chopping sales block).

The new defence of responsible communication is good news for the media, but Ryerson University’s Jeffrey A. Dvorkin doubts it will usher in a new wave investigative journalism. As layoffs continue and newsrooms are pared down to the editorial bone, the ability of news organizations to engage in deep, contextual investigative journalism is far from what it once was, or what it should be.

Canadian journalists should not start breaking out the champagne – not just yet.

The Supreme Court of Canada has updated this country’s libel laws and ruled on a matter of “responsible communication.” The ruling states, in part, that journalists and their news organizations can be shielded from libel if they demonstrated that they have taken every reasonable step to check the veracity of information published or broadcast.

The defence will operate in favour of the media outlet, “if it can establish that it acted responsibly in attempting to certify the information in a matter of public interest,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote.
Be careful what you wish for

The points raised above are interesting since independent bloggers are able over a long period of time to do intensive and in-depth investigations as individuals and as part of a community as has been pointed out in the evolving story of “Peer-to-Peer Review: How ‘Climategate’ Marks the Maturing of a New Science Movement“.

Certainly the Climategate whistleblowers were acting out of concern for the public interest in their release of the Climategate documents. That much has now been verified. The impact of the Climategate confirmations is hugely significant. This isn’t recognized by the majority of the mainstream media yet.

In fact MSNBC still has it’s eyes closed and they usually are an enlightened organization.

CNN has broadcast some effective stories on it interviewing people from both sides however they keep broadcasting their silly “Earth in Peril” series that promotes blatant falsehoods or one sided nonsense about Anthropogenic Global Warming (for example in one episode Anderson Cooper is talking about the melting ice in Greenland but doesn’t make any reference to the increased ice in the Southern Hemisphere and how that pretty much balances out the losses in ice in the Northern Hemisphere nor did they update their reports to reveal the latest relevant recent increases in the Northern Ice the last two years).

It falls to Russian TV and others and scarily the very spooky right wing FOX News to be getting this story out there, unfortunately they usually add too much of their “nutter” political opinions into the mix. At least they have done some real reporting on climategate while many other news channels have not!

Canada’s own CBC gets failing marks while their commentator Rex Murphy gets an award for stunning and incredibly amazing political commentary on Climategate. It is a poetic editorial sight to behold! Go Rex GO!

If only I can attain such levels of depth, integrity, accuracy, presentation and prose as the likes of Stephen McIntyre, Anthony Watts, Jo Nova and Rex Murphy.

Now what of the new rules? The following article gives an excellent in-depth analysis of the rulings. Very interesting.

Two hundred years after the death of Thomas Paine, and three days before Christmas, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a pair of decisions that marks the most important advance in freedom of expression, and in particular, freedom of the press, in recent Canadian law.

In Grant v. Torstar Corp. 2009 SCC 61, and Quan v. Cusson, 2009 SCC 62, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed a new defence of responsible communication on matters of public interest. This new defence will protect journalists, publishers, and, importantly, citizen-journalists and bloggers, from a defamation claim if the defendant can show that he or she acted responsibly in reporting on a matter of public interest even if the facts turn out to be wrong.

Further, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the concept of “reportage”: a journalist or publisher will generally not be liable for quoting defamatory statements made by a person, if the defamatory statements are repeated in a fair manner, and are repeated in order to report on what was said in a given dispute.

The test for the defence of responsible communication on matters of public interest

The defendant must prove two elements in order to establish the defence for responsible communication:

(a) the publication must be on a matter of public interest; and

(b) the publication was responsible, in that the defendant was diligent in trying to verify the allegations, having regard to all of the circumstances.

New defamation defence of responsible communication on matters of public interest

A new day dawns.

If you know of similar laws or have any additional information or caveats to share please post them in the comments. Thanks.

One Response to “The New Defense of Responsible Journalism”

  1. rogerthesurf said

    There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

    There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

    I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog which includes discussion on the CO2 issue.

    Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.



    PS In my country a porky is not a fat person but refers to a statement or assertion of gross falsehood or extreme exaggeration.

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