In Part One we looked at some pointers to remember before issuing quotes and comments.
Now let’s examine a small sample of general legal limitations which are also well worth taking note of.
Legal limitations on freedom of speech
Defamation law places necessary restrictions on what we are able to say about other individuals or companies. For the most part, people are free to speak as they will, but when it can be shown that unjust criticism was levelled at someone who was undeserving of it, and it caused significant harm to some aspect of their life, there are quite rightly various forms of legal recourse for them to take.
What is defamation?
While it has no single definition, defamation involves making a statement which is likely to lower other people’s opinions of an individual or group of people. There are limitations on who can claim for defamation, because the statement has to be specific enough that it is likely to cause harm to their reputation; simple abuse does not count as being defamatory.
Defamation takes two forms – libel and slander. Slander is generally used to refer to defamation through speech, whereas libel involves a lasting publication of the defamatory comments.
Remedies for defamation vary, but, as with all punishments for crime, attempt to go some way towards alleviating the anguish caused to the victim. They may involve a fine payable to the affected person or an official retraction in the publication in question.
There are, of course, various defences of defamation which can be used if legal action should be taken. It is not always the case that saying something negative about an individual is illegal; in fact, if it can be proven that the statement was the truth, this is sufficient defence. The rule of fair comment also allows justifiable opinions to be stated, even negative ones.
So, it’s important to have an opinion but you have to be able to back this up if it’s questioned.
Being controversial is fine – just do it for the right reasons and think about any potential fall-out in being so – both good and bad.
And importantly, keep to topics you know inside and out.