At first glance media law can seem, to say the least, a little bit daunting. When my Journalism lecturer presented an hour of rules and regulations, what you can and cannot say, who you can and cannot identify, all of a sudden reporting seemed rather scary. One mistake and you could have a libel case on your hands and even worse a damaged reputation as a journalist.
Of course, I was aware that there were restrictions, but journalists really do have so many barriers in-between free speech and the responsibility of informing the public.
Below is my condensed list of media law from the NUJ and PCC code of conduct:
- Accuracy is vital. Yes, we all know that sloppy grammar, punctuation and spelling is not professional but, more importantly, a simple slip could drastically change the meaning of the matter you are informing about. On the occasion an inaccuracy is published, correct and apologise… IMMEDIATELY!
- Be subjective. ‘Said’ is such a simple, and slightly boring word, but it does the job. Words like ‘confirmed’, ‘suggested’, ‘acknowledged’ puts your own stance on the matter and you must remain neutral. Also, ensure that you get balanced quotes so that the story is not one-sided.
- Be cautious in establishing what is fact and what is rumour. Rumours should only be reported in the interest of the public. Make sure you are always supported with authoritative sources. Oh, and don’t sensationalise, stick to the facts.
- Always report in good taste. Avoid publishing graphic details and gruesome photographs. Firstly, because you must respect victims and their families and secondly, who actually wants to read a horror story over breakfast first thing in the morning?
- Obtain information, photographs and illustrations by straightforward means. Remember to be ethical in collecting information and remember to protect confidential sources. The public interest should always come first.
- Never encourage discrimination. Only publish information about age, race, gender, marital status and sexual orientation if it is relevant.
- Be aware of reporting restrictions with regards to children. You must not identify them if they are under the age of 18 and involved in court proceedings. If you are reporting on non-judical matters then always seek permission from a parent or guardian.
- In court – now this is a complicated one. You should include in your report the name of the court, the defendant’s name, age and address and the charge or charges. Then of course you should state the plea, verdict and sentence. When writing about the case include details of who did what to who, where, when and how. Ensure you get accurate quotes. To obtain accurate quotes in court. Learning short-hand is a great idea as dictaphones and cameras must not enter the court room. You can identify the magistrate by name, however, you must not identify the jury. I suggest further research into court laws!
Hope this helps!
Picture: google images