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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 Reply' bill
    Right of Reply Bill published
  • Notices

    Events & Announcements

    Making Good Society


    DATELINE: 24/10/14
    Joyce Macmillan, journalist, NUJ member and member of the Carnegie UK Trust's Commission on the Media, summarises the findings of the Commission's report on news media, published in 2010 as 'Making Good Society'. Click 'Read on' below.
    » Read on


    Stand Up For Journalism: democracy and ownership in the age of big media and internet titans


    DATELINE: 22/10/14
    Wednesday 5 November 2014 
    Drinks reception at 17.00 for 17.30 start.
    Bute Building, Cardiff University, King Edward VII Ave, Castle, Cardiff, CF10 3NB
    Speakers: Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists; Granville Williams, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, editor of Big Media and Internet Titans and Martin Shipton, chief reporter, Media Wales, and chair of the NUJ's Trinity Mirror group chapel.
    This is a free ticketed event. For further details and information please contact: Julie Jewell email: JewellJ2@cf.ac.uk
    Tickets at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stand-up-for-journalism-public-lecture-on-democracy-and-media-ownership-tickets-13573060389 
    » Read on
    Reporting Gaza: Why the Media Bias?


    For majority of the British media, the importance of presenting impartial news coverage has always been a key objective, but the notion of achieving balance and context has been questioned during the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza. The death and destruction – and especially the deaths of so many children – has appeared in brutal contrast with the relatively minor impact of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Moreover, Western media has been criticised for failing to cover the conflict in a fair manner and some media outlets, the BBC in particular, appear infused with a pro-Israeli bias. Equality in news reporting is not the only issue troubling the traditional media as a result of the recent turmoil in the Middle East; more journalists than ever before are losing their lives and insurgents are increasingly using social media to spread propaganda.
    Nicholas Jones is joined by Lindsey German,  Stop the War Coalition; Tim Llewellyn, former Middle East correspondent for the BBC, and Aidan White, director of the  Ethical Journalism Network.
    » Read on
    The 84 miners' strike remembered


    DATELINE: 2/4/14
    Coal Not DoleOrgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (events in 2014)
    The Picnic at Orgreave Sat 14 June
    Durham Miners' Gala 12 July
    The Tolpuddle Festival Tolpuddle, Dorset, Fri 18 - Sun 20 July
    South Yorkshire Festival Wortley Hall, Barnsley, 16 August
    A day-long national event supported by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and the NUM in the refurbished Unity Hall in Wakefield on 7 March 2015.
    Contact CPBF for more information

    BUY SETTLING SCORES HERE
    MINERS' STRIKE REMEMBERED ON FACEBOOK
    » Read on
    DOWNLOAD FREEPRESS NOW

    DATELINE: 26/3/10
    Download Freepress in PDF, ePub or mobi format. Issues 197,198 and 199 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.
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posted by: Kevin McCaighy


DATELINE: 20/10/14

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posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 20/10/14

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posted by: LSE blog


DATELINE: 8/10/14
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Julian Petley on press freedom

posted by: Inforrm


DATELINE: 26/8/14
Julian Petley, one of the most prominent campaigners for media freedom in the UK, kindly agreed to answer some questions from Simon Dawes on phone-hacking, the Snowden leaks, the fallout from the Leveson Inquiry, and IPSO, the new self-regulatory body for the press. In this interview, he emphasises the need for press freedom from both the state and the market, and the need for some form of state intervention to ensure press freedom....

» Read on


A very backward response

posted by: Des Freedman


DATELINE: 12/8/14

Those HR people in the Culture Department are a hard-nosed bunch. Instead of letting civil servants working on the media ownership brief have a well-deserved rest in Tuscany, they keep them at their desks in the hottest months of the year publishing policy statements when the sun is shining....

» Read on


Red-top headlines galore

posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 6/8/14

For any student of the British press the endless barrage of red-top headlines that fills the stage at the National Theatre is often as funny, or sometimes even funnier, than the script lines of Great Britain, Richard Bean's satire on tabloid journalism and the phone-hacking trial....

» Read on


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DATELINE: 30/7/14
Rupert Murdoch's latest bid for empire expansion has fallen on deaf ears. His offer to buy Time Warner for US$80 billion was resoundingly rejected by the owners of CNN, HBO and Warner Brothers. ...

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More Questions than Verdicts

posted by: Granville Williams


DATELINE: 24/6/14

At last we have the verdicts in what has been described as "the media trial of the century", but they bring little clarity and leave many questions unanswered....

» 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....

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Euro-electorate in the dark

posted by: Granville Williams


DATELINE: 28/1/14
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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....

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Justice and journalism both on trial

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DATELINE: 20/11/13
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posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 29/10/13
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DATELINE: 28/10/13
Rupert Murdoch
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DATELINE: 21/10/13

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» Read on


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

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» Read on


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posted by: Nicholas Jones


DATELINE: 11/10/13
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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


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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


Look out Newsnight, new pro-war kid on the block

posted by: Victor Noir


DATELINE: 6/9/13
There is a new and surprising cheerleader in the media rabble egging on our leaders to blunder into yet another stupid and pointless Middle East war: Channel 4 news....

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Events & announcements


Making Good Society


DATELINE: 24/10/14
Joyce Macmillan, journalist, NUJ member and member of the Carnegie UK Trust's Commission on the Media, summarises the findings of the Commission's report on news media, published in 2010 as 'Making Good Society'. Click 'Read on' below.
» Read on
Stand Up For Journalism: democracy and ownership in the age of big media and internet titans


DATELINE: 22/10/14
Wednesday 5 November 2014 
Drinks reception at 17.00 for 17.30 start.
Bute Building, Cardiff University, King Edward VII Ave, Castle, Cardiff, CF10 3NB
Speakers: Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists; Granville Williams, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, editor of Big Media and Internet Titans and Martin Shipton, chief reporter, Media Wales, and chair of the NUJ's Trinity Mirror group chapel.
This is a free ticketed event. For further details and information please contact: Julie Jewell email: JewellJ2@cf.ac.uk
Tickets at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stand-up-for-journalism-public-lecture-on-democracy-and-media-ownership-tickets-13573060389 
» Read on
DOWNLOAD FREEPRESS NOW

DATELINE: 26/3/10
Download Freepress in PDF, ePub or mobi format. Issues 197,198 and 199 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