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    Platform - A right to reply

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    150/Robert Henderson

    DATELINE: 25/2/06

    A statutory right of reply (RoR) is a thing of journalistic nightmares. That tells you it is the best remedy for those who cannot afford to sue for libel. But the media is looking a gift horse in the mouth for a RoR would provide the strongest guard against any government desire to formally regulate newspapers and to further interfere with broadcasters, because an effective cheap means of rapid redress available to everyone, including politicians incidentally, capsizes the prime argument for state regulation. A RoR is the perfect non-political remedy for media abuse because it is a self-sustaining and self-regulating mechanism.

    Costs could easily be kept low. First, by making libel the only reason for refusing a RoR and then only for that part of a proposed reply which was libellous. Second, by empowering Small Claims Courts to decide whether a claimed libel exists and, if the court does not agree that it does, to order the newspaper or broadcaster to publish the disputed reply. There should be no higher court appeal against the Small Claims Court's decision unless the appellant pays both sides' costs. This would allow justice while preventing those seeking a RoR from being intimidated out of their right by the threat of heavy costs.

     

    How would it work?

    The qualification for a RoR would be simple and objective: a media outlet has printed or broadcast material about an individual.

    In the case of newspapers I would give a respondent 300 words as an automatic right and another 500 words for every 1000 words published about him or her over 1500 words. The respondent's reply should be printed on the same page as the story to which they are responding. If the newspaper responds to a reply then the person responded to would get another RoR.

    Broadcasting is more problematic but a written reply by the person criticised could be read out on air. Where the person has the confidence to speak for themselves, they should be allowed to broadcast their reply.

     

    Practical fears

    The media will say that this is completely impractical, that their papers and broadcasts would be full of nothing but replies. In fact, the general experience of the introduction of new opportunities offered to the public is that there is an initial burst of activity which soon settles down to a hard core of those willing to make the effort. If the introduction of a right to reply proved the sociological odd man out and the media was overwhelmed, the system could be reviewed.

    A narrow RoR would be worthless. A RoR should not be limited to inaccuracy. There is often no easy way of proving the truth or otherwise of ostensible "facts". If a RoR was restricted to inaccuracy, the media would assuredly undermine it by arguing interminably.

    Then there is opinion. This is often more damaging than inaccuracy. Moreover, there is no clear distinction between fact and opinion. Suppose I write of an actress that "she is a whore"that is a statement of fact which, in principle, can be tested objectively. But what if I write "she has the morals of a whore"? Is that fact or opinion?

     

    The present non-legal remedies

    These are both cumbersome and unfair. For example, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is comprised entirely of people drawn from the media or from those associated in some way with the media, and the organisation is funded by the press. Unsurprisingly, a non-celebrity complainant to the PCC rarely succeeds.

    But this misses a larger point. No matter how formally honest any media regulating body was, it could no more serve the public generally than the legal profession can serve the general public in actions for libel where there is no legal aid.

    The numbers of complaints actually considered formally by the PCC and the broadcasting authorities is minute, running into a few hundred a year — most complaints never get a full hearing or investigation. If the public began to use these bodies enthusiastically they would be overwhelmed.

     

    The effect on the media

    Faced with an immediate published response to any inaccuracy or abusive opinion and the possibility of having to submit themselves to public examination in a small claims court, journalists and broadcasters would cease to be cavalier about what they write.

    The present relationship between the media and anyone they choose to criticise is analogous to someone who binds a man and then punches him. It is not a contest but an act of cowardice.



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    Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009


    Previous right of reply stories


    Right of Reply in Europe
    Right of Reply and Press Standards Bill
    Second reading for Right of Reply
    WREKIN MP LAUNCHES PRESS RIGHT OF PEPLY BILL
    Right of Reply Bill published
  • Notices

    Events & Announcements

    Miners strike - Thatcher's lies and still no justice


    DATELINE: 25/3/14
    When the 1984 Cabinet papers concerning the miners strike of 30 years ago, were released this January, a gripping account was laid bare of the secret steps taken by Margaret Thatcher to break the strike, and the lies told to the nation. As the then Prime Minister micromanaged the government's authoritarian response to the strikers, including the brutal police responses, and hiding the truth surrounding the planned number of pit closure, a new book reveals there's still no justice.
    » Read on


    You are invited to a screening of Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary,


    DATELINE: 4/4/14

    A film by STEPHEN VITTORIA (Documentary/USA 2012.Wednesday 30 April 2014 at 6 p.m.School of Law, University of Westminster, 4, Little Titchfield Street, London W1W 7UW.The documentary follows the extraordinary journey of the journalist and revolutionary Mumia Abu- Jamal, who was imprisoned in solitary confinement on death row in Pennsylvania, USA for 30 years.The screening will be followed by a panel discussion and Q & A.The event is free but RSVP is required. Please RSVP Nicola Laing at N.Laing@westminster.ac.uk  


    Public Meeting Tuesday 29 April


    DATELINE: 31/3/14
    Revealing Truths - Just how free is the press today?
    7.30 pm- 9.00pm
    Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester.
    Speakers: Granville Williams (CPBF)
    Stephen Kingston (Salford Star editor)Free entry.
    Organised by the Mary Quaile Club
    http://maryquaileclub.wordpress.com
    email: maryquaileclub@gmail.com 
    » Read on
    What all journalists need to know about the Defamation Act 2013


    DATELINE: 31/3/14
    Wednesday 16 April 6.30pm - 8.30pm
    Headland House, 308-312 Gray's Inn Rd, London WC1X 8DP
    The Defamation Act 2013 is now in force and has introduced major changes which affect how journalists work.
    Tamsin Allen and Athalie Matthews of Bindmans LLP will guide members through the changes.
    They will discuss:
    • what constitutes defamation;
    • what constitutes publication to third parties;
    • the various forms that defamation can take;
    • and the new defences introduced by the Act.
     
    There will be time for questions and answers.
    We expect places at the seminar will be in high demand, they will be allocated on a strictly first-come-first-served basis.
    Contact freelance@nuj.org.uk to register.
    http://www.nuj.org.uk/events/what-all-journalists-need-to-know-about-the-defamation-act-2013/
    Frances Rafferty
    NUJ Campaigns & Communications officer
    Tel: 0207 843 6380       
    » Read on
    Diary date Saturday 21 June


    DATELINE: 10/3/14
    CPBF Annual General Meeting
    10am – 12.30pm NUJ HQ, 308 Gray's Inn Road
    London  WC1. (Tube/trains Kings Cross/St Pancras.)
    Election of national council, report on activities, debates.
    Deadlines - Nominations for the national council 6 June.
    AGM motions 13 June. Further details CPBF office.
    Email freepress@cpbf.org.uk 
    » Read on
    DOWNLOAD FREEPRESS NOW

    DATELINE: 26/3/10
    Download Freepress in PDF, ePub or mobi format. Issues 197 and 198 are now available in PDF format only.
    » Read on
    MEDIA FOR ALL CONFERENCE

    DATELINE: 26/3/10
    Papers from the Media for All Conference


    MEDIA MANIFESTO

    DATELINE: 26/3/10
    The media’s job is to inform and entertain us but we rely on them too to tell us what our rulers and representatives are up to. In the run-up to the Iraq war the government used spin and disinformation in the media to create panic and mislead people. The truth is coming out now, but we need stronger, more independent media to be able to scrutinise governments and make informed choices.
    » Read on

  • Previous stories

Extras

Campaign blogs:

The Miller's tale

posted by: Jonathan Heawood


DATELINE: 5/4/14
Maria Miller (pictured) has been found culpable by an MPs' committee of over claiming expenses on her London home, and of failing to co-operate with the committee's inquiry. She has been asked to apologise to the House of Commons and she has duly apologised, albeit tersely. Her political fate hangs in the balance....

» Read on


London Live goes live

posted by: Jonathan Hardy


DATELINE: 31/3/14
London's new local television channel, London Live is due to launch on the 31st of March. Its owner also owns the city's largest circulation local newspaper and two national newspapers. University of East London's Jonathan Hardy discusses the implications for media plurality arguing that the key question is how the new service will be regulated....

» Read on


Still settling scores

posted by: Granville Williams


DATELINE: 31/3/14
It is always educative to get out and about a bit. I've certainly been doing that this month promoting my new book Settling Scores: The Media, the Police and the Miners' Strike (http://www.cpbf.org.uk//) published for the 30th anniversary of the miners' strike....

» Read on


Newspapers exploit Lawrence case

posted by: Brian Cathcart


DATELINE: 16/3/14

We could be forgiven for thinking it was a default procedure these days at the Daily Mail: when an editorial writer gets to the final few paragraphs about almost any subject, he or she strains to find a way to blame it all on Sir Brian Leveson....

» Read on


Absent voice of Arthur Scargill

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 7/2/14
Margaret Thatcher's cabinet papers for the 1984-5 miners' strike have raised as many questions as answers - not least about the behaviour of the South Yorkshire Police - but once again a missing voice has been that of Arthur Scargill....

» Read on


Euro-electorate in the dark

posted by: Granville Williams


DATELINE: 28/1/14
As the European Elections loom on 22 May 2014 how well-informed will the UK electorate be when they put their crosses on the ballot papers? Not very, I’m afraid....

» Read on


A Pantomime of Deceit and Disinformation

posted by: Julian Petley


DATELINE: 16/12/13
By rejecting the Royal Charter, the majority of the British press has  done exactly the opposite of what it claims it wants to achieve: keep  politicians out of press regulation......

» Read on


Journalists in the dock

posted by: Justin Schlosberg


DATELINE: 6/12/13
A little over two months ago, the Daily Mail ran an editorial describing the leader of the Labour Party's father as 'the man who hated Britain'. Although that article was widely criticised in the broader media and by politicians of all colours, it is difficult to imagine that Keith Vaz would have posed his question had that article never appeared....

» Read on


Justice and journalism both on trial

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 29/11/13
Independent front page October 2013As the prosecution continues to present its evidence at the Old Bailey in the case alleging phone hacking and the bribing of public officials, it is becoming increasingly clear that not only is British justice on trial but also journalism itself....

» Read on


Lobbyists: seven key myths

posted by: Tamasin Cave, Spinwatch


DATELINE: 20/11/13
This month's Lords debate on the Lobbying Bill included a statement by Lord Wallace for the government on why it is refusing to introduce a more comprehensive register of lobbyists....

» Read on


How Twitter tames the Mail

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 29/10/13
While the Daily Mail's editor Paul Dacre continues to lick his wounds after a mauling at the hands of what he derides as the "Twitter mob", his headline writers have had no alternative but to accept the power of social media....

» Read on


When Harry Met Rupert

posted by: Barry White


DATELINE: 28/10/13
Rupert MurdochOn 22 October I went to hear the House of Lords' Communications Comm- ittee take evidence on media plurality from Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The Times and Sunday Times. He was followed by representatives from the Media Reform Coalition and the internet campaigning organisation Avaaz....

» Read on


"How much?" "What's it worth?": Murdoch's local news legacy

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 21/10/13

Across the country local press reporters will have every reason to reflect on the long-term impact of Rupert Murdoch's forty-year stewardship of some of Britain's most popular daily and Sunday newspapers....

» Read on


Digital audience for local press heralds a financial 'tipping point' in advertising revenue

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 14/10/13

After a decade or more of cuts and job losses a growing digital audience is holding out the prospect that local newspapers might soon be reaching a tipping point when online income outweighs the loss of print advertising....

» Read on


Did 'fact finder' Lord Justice Leveson overlook cash payments for news stories?

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 11/10/13
In one of the tetchiest exchanges during a select committee hearing before MPs, Lord Justice Leveson refused to get drawn into the way some tabloid newspapers continue to promise pay for information for news stories – a practice which represents one of the starkest ethical divides among British journalists....

» Read on


McBride's willing accomplices escape scrutiny

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 7/10/13
All too many political journalists were as complicit as the ex-spin doctor Damian McBride in helping to propagate his smear stories about the ministerial colleagues and opponents of the former Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown....

» Read on


The enemies within at the BBC

posted by: Victor Noir


DATELINE: 22/9/13
The name of the operation is Rock the BBC. Bother them, get them on Prozac, looking over their shoulders all the time. MPs and government and rival media are at it all the time....

» Read on


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Events & announcements


You are invited to a screening of Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary,


DATELINE: 4/4/14

A film by STEPHEN VITTORIA (Documentary/USA 2012.Wednesday 30 April 2014 at 6 p.m.School of Law, University of Westminster, 4, Little Titchfield Street, London W1W 7UW.The documentary follows the extraordinary journey of the journalist and revolutionary Mumia Abu- Jamal, who was imprisoned in solitary confinement on death row in Pennsylvania, USA for 30 years.The screening will be followed by a panel discussion and Q & A.The event is free but RSVP is required. Please RSVP Nicola Laing at N.Laing@westminster.ac.uk  


Public Meeting Tuesday 29 April


DATELINE: 31/3/14
Revealing Truths - Just how free is the press today?
7.30 pm- 9.00pm
Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester.
Speakers: Granville Williams (CPBF)
Stephen Kingston (Salford Star editor)Free entry.
Organised by the Mary Quaile Club
http://maryquaileclub.wordpress.com
email: maryquaileclub@gmail.com 
» Read on
What all journalists need to know about the Defamation Act 2013


DATELINE: 31/3/14
Wednesday 16 April 6.30pm - 8.30pm
Headland House, 308-312 Gray's Inn Rd, London WC1X 8DP
The Defamation Act 2013 is now in force and has introduced major changes which affect how journalists work.
Tamsin Allen and Athalie Matthews of Bindmans LLP will guide members through the changes.
They will discuss:
• what constitutes defamation;
• what constitutes publication to third parties;
• the various forms that defamation can take;
• and the new defences introduced by the Act.
 
There will be time for questions and answers.
We expect places at the seminar will be in high demand, they will be allocated on a strictly first-come-first-served basis.
Contact freelance@nuj.org.uk to register.
http://www.nuj.org.uk/events/what-all-journalists-need-to-know-about-the-defamation-act-2013/
Frances Rafferty
NUJ Campaigns & Communications officer
Tel: 0207 843 6380       
» Read on
Diary date Saturday 21 June


DATELINE: 10/3/14
CPBF Annual General Meeting
10am – 12.30pm NUJ HQ, 308 Gray's Inn Road
London  WC1. (Tube/trains Kings Cross/St Pancras.)
Election of national council, report on activities, debates.
Deadlines - Nominations for the national council 6 June.
AGM motions 13 June. Further details CPBF office.
Email freepress@cpbf.org.uk 
» Read on
DOWNLOAD FREEPRESS NOW

DATELINE: 26/3/10
Download Freepress in PDF, ePub or mobi format. Issues 197 and 198 are now available in PDF format only.
» Read on
MEDIA FOR ALL CONFERENCE

DATELINE: 26/3/10
Papers from the Media for All Conference


MEDIA MANIFESTO

DATELINE: 26/3/10
The media’s job is to inform and entertain us but we rely on them too to tell us what our rulers and representatives are up to. In the run-up to the Iraq war the government used spin and disinformation in the media to create panic and mislead people. The truth is coming out now, but we need stronger, more independent media to be able to scrutinise governments and make informed choices.
» Read on