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Media Law: Learning the principles of the law of defamation through discovery and guided discussion

Abstract: How legal actions for defamation arise, what a complainant has to show to win a libel case, what he does not have to show – and who can sue. Understanding the risks of committing defamation is of fundamental importance in journalism, but defamation law is founded on case law and precedent and that which is considered defamatory will vary from time to time, community to community - and person to person.
Journalism students need to be able to analyse a report and evaluate any risk in the light of its content and context.
The approach presented here encourages discovery of the principles of defamation primarily through guided small-group discussions feeding back to the full class using a series of exercises which draw on students’ own experience.
This introductory session lasts two hours and prepares students to apply the concepts to real world exercises. It does not address the further topic of defences against a suit for libel.

Author Information: David Baines has been a regional daily newspaper journalist for 27 years and is a visiting lecturer in journalism at both Sunderland University and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He has taught in Higher Education for eight years, from Level 1 to MA and on the accredited National Council for the Training of Journalists programme at Sunderland. He has designed and taught modules on print journalism, media ethics, newsletter production and public administration, sub-editing and design, but specialises in media law. He delivers professional development programmes for journalists on Trinity Mirror’s regional morning newspaper The Journal in Newcastle, on which he is a sub-editor,. He is an accredited National Union of Journalists learning representative and a member of the North East Area Advisory Committee of the NCTJ.  He gained his Cert Ed (HE) in 2000 and has  been a member of the ILT, now HE Academy, since May, 2001.

Date: December 2005

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