Ethics and the Law in Journalism Key Concepts Understand the ethical principles of journalism Understand libel laws and what defenses journalists have Words to look up Ethics Credibility Libel Plagiarism Slander Defamation Intrusion What is the difference between ethics and the law? Laws are what we have to do Ethics are what we should do Libel One of the most important things to understand in journalism. Libel is the publication of a false statement that injures someone’s reputation. This keeps journalists from printing whatever they want about whoever they want. Slander Slander was originally the oral form of libel (it was spoken, not written) but the two are so close to one another that slander has been absorbed into libel. In other words, they’re the same thing. How is libel proven? To sue for libel and win, a plaintiff must demonstrate a convincing combination of 5 points. The points… 1. Defamation—this is the spreading of false reports about someone that injures that person’s reputation. 2. Identification—the plaintiff must prove that it is he or she the publication is talking about. 3. Publication—it has to be given to a third party. A private letter is not libelous. More… 4. Fault—this can be either by negligence or actual malice or reckless disregard. 5. Damages—this means money. It can be compensatory or punitive. Defenses against Libel Truth—plain and simple. If the story is true then they can’t sue. Privilege—if it’s said in an arena such as an open court, then it’s okay to print. Fair Comment—holds true in opinion pieces. Admission of Error—print a retraction. How to avoid libel Check your sources, and try to have more than one—you must make sure you are writing from every angle. Understand criminal procedure and terminology. Edit carefully. A sensitive story should be edited by several people. Have a notes policy. Either save all of them or destroy all of them. More ways… Avoid confidential content and editorial comments in your notes. Keep a log of your efforts to check out the story. Always ask for a comment or reaction from the person you’re writing about. If they give “no comment” then use that in the story. Behave professionally and identify yourself as a reporter. Another legal matter: Invasion of Privacy 4 privacy issues to recognize: Intrusion—it involves the reporter’s behavior while gathering the news. It includes: Misrepresentation; Trespass; Surreptitious use of a camera or tape recorder. Public Disclosure—includes publication of accurate information regarded as private. False Light—Portraying someone inaccurately to the point that he or she is embarrassed and reasonable person would be offended. Appropriation—Commercial exploitation of someone’s name or image Three Ethics rules to live by: Seek the truth and report it fully as possible. Act independently. Minimize harm. Activity #1: With a partner, use the internet to research three U.S. legal decisions that affected journalism. You can start with the 1735 libel trial of John Peter Zenger. Activity #2 Look up the First Amendment. What are the five freedoms discussed?