Defamation is one of the most critical and complicated legal issues for journalists. Criminal and civil laws aimed at protecting the privacy rights and reputations of citizens and public officials directly impact–and conflict with–journalists’ freedom of expression rights and their abilities to exercise their watchdog roles. While in principle, defamation laws aim to strike balance between privacy and freedom of expression rights, in practice these laws can be–and often are–abused by political and business elites to punish journalists for critical coverage. As our research shows, these punishments can include high fines and even imprisonment
It is therefore crucial that journalists understand their legal rights and obligations, especially when covering public figures or reporting on matters of public interest. While in Europe reporters generally have strong freedom of expression protections under both domestic and international law, these rights also come with responsibilities. “Journalists should know they have considerable leeway in critically evaluating the performance of public officials,” explains Nani Jansen, Senior Legal Counsel with the Media Legal Defense Initiative. “But it is also important for journalists to know that there is certain degree of due diligence that needs to be applied in order for their reporting to qualify as ‘responsible journalism.’ When journalists know both their rights and obligations, they can fully perform their role as what the European Court likes to call a ‘public watchdog.’”
The following data was collected by the CMPF/CMDS in collaboration with International Press Institute, under the European Commission-supported European Centre for Media Pluralism and Freedom Pilot project scheme.