(Avoiding) Libel – guidelines for contributors
As the ever-useful Wikipedia explains – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation –
“In common law …slander refers to a malicious, false,] and defamatory spoken statement or report, while libel refers to any other form of communication such as written words or images. Most jurisdictions allow legal actions, civil and/or criminal, to deter various kinds of defamation and retaliate against groundless criticism.”
In England, a libel action can be brought by individuals if a published statement (e.g. on a blog) appears to them to cause a reasonable person to think worse of them.
Typical defences in a libel action are that the statements are true – e.g.
“This person said that the match had to be abandoned because the trains were cancelled and the roads were impassable, although I don’t think either of these things was so” – implying that they lied.
A defence would need both to show that the person made that comment, and that the road and rail access was working fine.
or is fair comment
“This captain turned up a player short – because the only available player was a woman and as I understand that as he has no faith in women players he is not willing to include them”
As the statement could lower the reputation of the captain in the eyes of others (especially, but not only, women) a defence may find it difficult to demonstrate that the statement was true, but may be able to show that it was fair comment if people could confirm that he had on other occasions left out women players, left out competent women players, and on this occasion had fielded a team with fewer than expected number of players when a competent female was available to play, and the captain knew this.
There are other possible defences – see the Wikipedia article – but it is best trying to avoid ever getting into a situation where individuals/the Club might have to respnd to an accusation of libel.
Libel actions arise for many reasons, but usually when a person who believes that their reputation – in the eyes of others – has been significantly diminished, and they feel they need to do something about it.
Having a reasonable defence will not necessarily prevent a libel action, and it is better to try to avoid making statements / comments that may cause others to take offence, or be seen by readers (inside or outside the club) as lowering the reputation of the people referred to.
“Joe Bloggs has never been able to play against the Sicilian” may be derogatory, but is probably not enough to cause someone to threaten legal action. Taken together with other negative comments, or different kinds of information about Joe, however, it could be taken as lowering Joe’s reputation in the eyes of others.
If, for example, Joe is offering chess tuition for money, or has just written a booklet about how to play the chess openings, the context changes the implications of the message (even if the person who wrote the statement did not know of either of these things about Joe it would be difficult to prove their ignorance in a court of law).
There are several things we can do to lower the chances of being sued:
1. Think carefully about what we write about individuals, or other teams, or other clubs, recognising that the readers on an internet site are not just those in the Tynedale Club, but could be anyone
This BBC guidance note on avoiding libel, from 2004, is written simply, and may be helpful:
2. Have a note on the site saying that Opinions in the blog are the personal views of individual authors, and if they accidentally give offence to anyone we would be grateful if those aggrieved will contact the webmasters so that the offending text can be removed or modified – e-mail us with details of the article, and error