Media Law Update (04 March): Regulation and Ethics

Personal commentary surrounding regulation and ethics:

In previous blogs I have covered the legal framework in which journalism takes place including: limits imposed by laws on defamation, contempt of court, and copyright.

The main focus of this week’s blog is to explore regulation (by various bodies and codes) as the mechanism for guiding journalists in day-to-day situations.

Important differences exist in the regulatory regimes relating to broadcast and print journalism. The regime relating to broadcast (BBC and Ofcom) is relatively settled but the regime relating to print is currently subject to furious debate.

Generally, broadcasters enjoy higher levels of audience trust than print based media. Effective ethical guidelines must enjoy the respect of those whose behaviour they are trying to influence. Prior to the phone hacking scandal the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was already negatively regarded by many. The PCC was thought to be too easily brushed aside by less scrupulous editors and journalists and was not considered as an institution which could threaten journalists’ careers.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has taken over the role of the old PCC, which closed in September. It is backed by the big newspaper and magazine groups, with exceptions of the Guardian, Financial Times and London Standard. Leveson opened his inquiry in November 2011 into the ‘culture, practices and ethics of the press’ posing the question: “Who guards the guardians?” He concluded a new system was needed as the old one had failed. Parliament has approved a Royal Charter system based on Leveson’s recommendations, but this has been rejected by the majority of press.

In an interview I conducted for The Justice Gap: associate director of Hacked Off, Dr Evan Harris, explained that unless there was an ‘external audit by the Royal Charter body’, both ‘independent’ of the industry and of politicians, ‘the public cannot have faith that IPSO isn’t just the PCC with lipstick’. Harris described the history of press regulation in this country as ‘a history of cycles of failure’ where the press say that they’re going to self-regulate themselves effectively and don’t.

In contrast, an article from the BBC, says former BBC chairman Lord Grade called the cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation “bonkers” saying that giving politicians ‘the opportunity to amend statutory press regulation cannot be in the public interest’.

Despite arguments over what type of regulation body should have replaced the PCC and why: it is important for journalists to follow the ethical codes set in place for them as making poor ethical judgements can cost them their reputation, audience trust, and ultimately their job. This is a consequence Peter Fincham found out, in 2007, when he resigned as BBC One Controller following an investigation into footage that misrepresented the Queen.

In the News:

In the news today (4th March 2015), IPSO upheld a complaint against Mail Online over Liz Jones’ column but rejected it against The Mail on Sunday over the same article. The Mail Online version of the article included a photograph of a dog wearing a “Hearing Dogs for Deaf People” vest, captioned “Home help: ‘I have four hearing dogs that are trained to create a commotion if my fire alarm goes off’”. Faith Clark complained on behalf of the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People that the article gave the inaccurate impression that the columnist has four specially-trained assistance dogs. According to Press Gazette, having upheld the complaint against the photograph, the IPSO complaints committee said that the removal of the photo and the addition of the footnote was sufficient remedial action. The complaint against The Mail on Sunday, which did not use the same photo as Mail Online, was rejected.

It is interesting to note in this case that the two titles were under separate editorial control and it is because of this that one article passed regulation ethics whilst the other one didn’t.

To round up:

Important differences exist in the regulatory regimes relating to broadcast and print journalism however it is up to you, as a journalist, to make sure that your work meets the relevant regulation standards and that if in doubt – refer up!

Law Notes: Regulation and codes of conduct

Codes of practice tend to concentrate on areas including:

  • Ethical behaviour expected from journalists.
  • Fair treatment and respect for privacy.
  • Requirement for accuracy and impartiality.
  • Protecting children and young people.

They also offer an avenue of redress to members of the public who wish to complain about their treatment at the hands of the press. This can be an alternative to the time and expense of going to law.

♦ (IPSO) The Independent Press Standards Organisation

IPSO is a non-statutory body. promises a tougher approach than the old PCC.

Powers:

  • Mediation between complainant and publisher.
  • Arbitration scheme (low cost).
  • Requirement for apologies/corrections.
  • Fines up to £1 million.

Although it contains credible figures from outside the newspaper industry, the jury is still out on its effectiveness. Some victims of press intrusion and hacking claim it’s a sham.

♦ Ofcom

Ofcom has statutory powers. Ofcom applies to TV and radio broadcasts, or services licensed by Ofcom. Large parts of the Code apply to the BBC except impartiality, inaccuracy and election provisions.

Powers:

  • Sanctions will be imposed when a broadcaster ‘deliberately, seriously or repeatedly’ breaches the Code.
  • Can issue a direction not to repeat a programme.
  • Can issue a direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s findings.
  • Can impose a financial penalty; and/or
  • Revoke a licence (not applicable to the BBC, S4C or Channel 4).
  • Can fine up to 5% of qualifying revenue or £250,000 – whichever greater.

There is an absolute requirement for ‘due accuracy and due impartiality’ – absent for print media. Privacy (Section 8) is important as it covers when secret recording might be appropriate or ‘warranted’ to use the Ofcom term.

♦ BBC Editorial Guidelines

BBC handles all its own complaints about bias and inaccuracy. BBC Trust sets the framework for procedure.

There are two main purposes of the BBC Guidelines:

  • They are specifically designed to be a working tool for programme makers and journalists.
  • They are designed as a benchmark of good practice when considering complaints.

♦ National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct

As with the IPSO/PCC code there is nothing for the public to reasonably disagree with. It remains a useful guide to good conduct, and a model to be replicated elsewhere but without the possibility of serious sanction for transgression, it does little to reassure a public which often remains sceptical about journalistic conduct.

 

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Media Law Update (25 Feb): Copyright, Freedom of information

Personal commentary on the risks surrounding copyright and the freedom of information:

Copyright is a noble cause and without copyright protection journalism, as a business, could not exist. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 protects a publication from having it’s content lifted word for word and thus maintains exclusivity – which has value. In the last year there has been some updating to copyright law to keep up with the digital age.

The main focus of this week’s blog is to explore what copyright is and why it matters. There are many dangers of breaching copyright inadvertently – getting it wrong (e.g. re-using TV library material) could cost a journalist a lot of money, as well as their reputation. Journalists should respect copyright in the same way they would want their copyright respected. Ignorance is no defence.

It is important to recognise copyright issues early in the production process. Contacting rights holders takes time, which you might not always have. Sometimes there are ways of avoiding expensive copyright material (e.g. using stills rather than video). Just because material is in your library or archive doesn’t mean you can freely use it.

However, copyright doesn’t just cover journalists’ work, it covers all forms of intellectual property and creative content – including that of the public. What is not protected under the law is undeveloped ideas.

For example, in 2007, two authors, who claimed Dan Brown‘s blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code was largely copied from their earlier book, lost an appeal over the case. The Appeal upheld the previous High Court verdict, which ruled that while both books explored similar ideas this did not constitute a breach of copyright. This is because there is no copyright in ideas – only in actual work.

In contrast, there was a case several years ago, where a photo taken of the Darwin couple in Panama – which blew their cover – published by the Daily Mirror – was also run by the BBC on the understanding it was Mirror copyright. It wasn’t and the BBC had to settle costs with the original photographer for breach of copyright.

This case highlights the importance of checking the source of material in the event that it might later put you in breach of copyright licence.

In the News:

In the news today (25th February 2015), the Telegraph reported that Joseph Kahn, the director of a Power Rangers fan film starring James Van Der Beek, has claimed that he is being “harassed” by Haim Saban who owns the rights to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Kahn’s film, which was hosted by Vimeo, was removed by the website, which apparently cited copyright issues only a few hours after giving the film a “Staff Pick” accolade. Vimeo‘s decision to remove the hit short film has sparked a furious ‘fair use’ debate on Twitter.

The argument being used by Kahn is that of fair use, free speech and satire. He also argues that the video was made for free and therefore he isn’t making any money off of it and thus compares it to drawing a picture of power rangers on a napkin and giving it to a friend. However, Kahn has published his video in the public domain and not just for personal use and as such there are restrictions and implications.

To round up:

Copyright issues have a tendency to crop up in routine stories and must therefore be respected – ignorance is no defence and so if in doubt it is always important to seek advice.

Law Notes: Copyright

Copyright protects intellectual property (the product of skill, creativity, labour or time). Copyright breach is making beneficial use of someone else’s intellectual work without their permission and claimants can sue for damages and loss of earnings.

Examples of what is protected under copyright:

  • Books
  • Films
  • Music
  • Photographs

Examples of what is NOT protected under copyright:

  • Undeveloped ideas
  • Brief slogans or catchphrases

Fair Dealing 

When ‘reporting current events’ a degree of ‘lifting’ of copyright material is allowed. This is also known as ‘fair dealing’.

 Examples of ‘fair dealing’:

  • You can lift quotes from a rival publication/broadcaster.
  • As long as in the public interest (e.g. misconduct of someone of public concern).
  • It is attributed (i.e. not passed off as your own work).
  • The usage must be ‘fair’ and must not compete with level of exploitation the copyright holder enjoys.

Fair dealing allows broadcast arts review shows to air clips and this is known as the ‘criticism and review’ exception. It also allows broadcasters to feature famous movie clips on the death of a film or TV star. This is ‘reporting current events’.

The big exception is photographs as no ‘part’ of a photo can be lifted – it’s all or nothing.

Copyright and the Internet

  • YouTube material is subject to copyright.
  • Everything on the internet subject to copyright.

Sports Rights is big danger area for News

  • Pictures may be ‘out of time’ in rights terms (i.e. rights may only be for certain number of showings in 24 hours).
  • Don’t assume you can ‘fair deal’ under reporting current events defence (e.g. when ITV had the Grand Prix rights, the BBC couldn’t run Grand Prix pictures in a sports story about a driver or team). Also, for example, the BBC can never run the Jonny Wilkinson world cup winning kick from 2003 without an agreement.
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Media Law Update (18 Feb): Qualified privilege, Inquests and Tribunals

Personal commentary on qualified privilege, inquests and tribunals:

Privilege offers day to day protection for a journalist in routine activities such as going to public meetings, council hearings, and even conversations with press officers.

The main focus of this week’s blog is to take a closer look at privilege and why it matters. Privilege underpins our ability to report the courts. It allows us as journalists to write or broadcast material which may be defamatory, or untrue, or even both at the same time. It gives us legal protection from being sued and in return we must abide by certain conditions.

The word ‘qualified’ refers to the principle that publication is protected only in certain circumstances and if we stick to certain rules. Journalists must understand clearly when they have the protection of privilege and when they do not.

In 2013, BBC’s Nick Robinson said on air (on the Daily Politics) that an Independent Police Complaints Commission report effectively concluded that three police Federation men ‘lied’ after their meeting with Andrew Mitchell in Oct 2012. It was clearly defamatory for the BBC to broadcast this on air, but they had Qualified Privilege, as the allegation was within an IPCC report.

Qualified Privilege exists as a defence when your report is ‘fair, accurate, without malice’ and on a matter of public interest. In 2001, Dr Grigori Loutchansky, a Russian businessman, won his High Court libel claim against The Times over two 1999 articles imputing possible involvement in the Bank of New York money-laundering scandal and links with organised crime. The case turned into a crucial test of the ambit of ‘Reynolds’ qualified privilege and press freedom. It was held that The Times was under no duty to publish either of the articles and that the defence of qualified privilege was not available.

This case is very interesting when challenging the status of information. In this case, the status of information was low grade, consisting of a report or repetition of allegations, suspicions and claims that investigations had been or were taking place and this imposed a duty on the reporter to proceed with caution.

In the news:

Last year (April 2014), Thames Valley Police had to pay damages to a man wrongly identified as a rapist by both the Oxford Mail and the BBC website. The BBC and the Oxford Mail were able to claim qualified privilege concerning publication of the photograph.

This case poses an important question of responsibility. The BBC and the Oxford Mail took measures to rectify the situation as soon as they were notified of the mistake. However, this story serves as an important message for journalists to always double-check facts and photographs – no matter who your source is.

To round up:

Journalists should aways be careful that although they may have Qualified Privilege in theory, it is possible to fail on tests of fairness or responsible journalism.

Law Notes: Qualified Privilege Inquests and Tribunals

There are two types of Privilege:

  1. Absolute is what we get covering Courts (must be fair, accurate, contemporaneous).
  2. Qualified privilege has as much protection as absolute, but reports must be ‘fair, accurate and without malice’. ALSO matter published must be of public concern.

Qualified Privilege is defined by statute law (Defamation Act 1996 and now expanded by Defamation Act 2013).

There are two levels to Qualified Privilege:

  1. Without ‘explanation and contradiction’: reporting on legislature anywhere in the world (e.g. UK Parliament).
  2. With ‘explanation and contradiction’: reporting on public meetings, police statements, council meetings (with the addition of press conferences in the new Defamation Act 2013).

Absolute Privilege is extended to courts anywhere in the world or established by international agreement (e.g. the International Criminal Court in the Hague). Common law and statutory protections of witnesses and jurors (including section 8 of the 1981 Act) apply to inquest proceedings, as does the ban on photographs, filming and audio recording in courts.

Status of press conferences

  • Qualified Privilege also applies to written material handed out even if it was not read aloud.
  • Verbal comments of press officers.
  • Proceedings and decisions by private associations (e.g. sporting).
  • Live broadcasting of Pressers: Where you think it is likely defamatory statements will be made think carefully about minimising risk.

You may have Qualified Privilege in theory but you may fail on tests of fairness or responsible journalism. Qualified Privilege exists as a defence when your report is ‘fair, accurate, without malice’ and on a matter of public interest. Journalists must be very careful when you report things said outside the proceedings of the event they are covering.

Coroner’s Court

A coroner is appointed to serve a district and must have practised as a barrister or solicitor for five years (in 2013 the government agreed that suitably qualified legal executives could also become coroners). The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 says new coroners must be legally qualified. The 2009 Act has reformed the systems. Districts became known as areas and some were merged to form larger ones.

There are two types of coroner inquests:

  1. To investigate the causes and circumstances of certain types of death.
  2. To decide whether found objects from bygone centuries should be classed as ‘treasure’.

Under the 2009 Act, an inquest must be held with a jury if the senior coroner has reason to suspect that the death falls into one of the following categories:

  1. The deceased was in custody or otherwise in state detention, and the death was either violent or unnatural, or the cause is unknown;
  2. The death resulted from an act or omission of a police officer or member of a police force of the armed services in the execution of his/her duty;
  3. The death was caused by those types of accident, poisoning or disease which by law must be notified to a government department or inspector, such as workplace facilities.

Inquests determine:

  1. Who the deceased was;
  2. How, when, where they came by their death;
  3. Findings about particulars of the death to be registered.

Coroners can hold three types of hearing:

  1. Pre-inquest review hearing
  2. Opening of the inquest
  3. Full hearing

Contempt issues in inquests if reports are not:

  • Fast, accurate and fair
  • Protected from libel by absolute privilege

Non-contemporaneous reports are protected by qualified privilege if requirements are met.

There is no direct route of appeal against an inquest decision, but an aggrieved person with sufficient legal interest in the case (e.g. a deceased’s next of kin can apply to the High Court for judicial review).

Tribunals and Pubic  inquiries:

Tribunals are specialist judicial bodies which decide disputes and make decisions determining someone’s rights. There are more than 70 types of tribunal. The majority rule on disputes between an individual, or a rivage organisation, and a state agency, about issues such as tax obligations, benefit entitlements, or immigration status. The annual workload of tribunals in this ‘administrative justice’ system can exceed a million cases, compared to about 65,000 civil and 200,000 criminal justice cases a year.

If a tribunal is classed as a court, then under the Defamation Act 1996 a fair and accurate media report of its hearings held in public (if published contemporaneously) is protected by absolute privilege, and a non-contemporaneous report is protected by qualified privilege under Part 1 of the Act’s Schedule 1, with no requirement to publish ‘explanation or contradiction’.

In 2009 the High Court ruled that a media account of the proceedings of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal enjoyed absolute privilege (Imran Karim vs. Newsquest [2009] EWHC 3205 (QB), which means that the High Court classed it as a court. But such case law does not exist or is not conclusive for some tribunals. The disciplinary tribunals of some other professions, and other types of tribunal, derive their powers from an Act of Parliament. A media report will be protected by qualified privilege if all the requirements of that defence are met. These include that the report fairly and accurately reflects the proceedings. Another requirement is that, at the request of anyone defamed by the published report, a reasonable letter or statement of explanation or contradiction must be published.

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Media Law Update (11 Feb): Privacy, Confidentiality, and Data Protection

Personal commentary on privacy, confidentiality, and data protection:

This area of law has been developing fairly rapidly – largely thanks to the significant impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 as well as judgements made in the European Court of Human Rights.

The main focus of this week’s blog is to explore the principle of confidentiality, expectation of privacy, and our rights as journalists regarding sources. Perhaps the most crucial of these principles is the requirement to balance interests: even when there is a strong public interest in uncovering the identity of a source, the vital function of the protection of sources in a democracy should not be overlooked.

Journalists must not take unfair advantage of information, released to them in confidence, unless given permission – incase of risk of being sued (or breach of ethical behaviour). Although it is normally journalists who claim the right of information, it is really the right of everyone to receive information and ideas that is being protected. Indeed, this is at the heart of the right and it is for this reason that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 exists. The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. (Information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002).

Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom. Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. The right of a journalist is to protect the confidentiality of their source(s).

The case of Bill Goodwin (1989) is a good place to start when looking at the protection of sources. Goodwin was a trainee journalist with ‘The Engineer magazine’ and received information regarding the financial status of a company. The information was given by telephone from a source who wished to remain anonymous and appeared to come from a confidential corporate plan, one copy of which had gone missing.

The company obtained orders preventing Goodwin from disclosing the confidential information and for delivery up and, under Section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, an order compelling him to divulge the identity of his source. Goodwin appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal and House of Lords and refused to disclose his source. He was fined £5,000 for contempt. This was a singnificant decision on the protection of journalists’ sources. Goodwin complained of a violation of Article 10 of the Convention. In 1996, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Goodwin’s favour to protect his source and the case was hailed a victory for investigative journalism.

This is a strong example of a journalist rightly protecting their source. The Human Rights Act 1998 says a court must consider whether there’s a public interest in a publication. This was not the case when considering the dispute between Max Mosley Vs. News of the WorldIn 2008 the News of the World printed a story on Mosley’s ‘sado-masochistic orgy with five women’ saying it had a “Nazi theme”. But the High Court ruled that there was no public interest in revealing the activities, so Mosley had a right of privacy and damages were awarded. Privacy is now protected under Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights.

In the news:

In the news today (11th February 2015), Government Communications Headquarters’ former legal director, Michael Drury, has admitted that journalists’ communications with their sources were barely considered when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was drafted. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is currently challenging the British government in the European Court of Human Rights in connection with its surveillance activities.

Last week a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner found that the police had failed to give “due consideration” to Article 10 rights when applying for warrants to intercept journalists’ communications. The Commissioner recommended that judges should approve interception requests in cases where officers are seeking to discover journalists’ sources.

This story offers an interesting debate around arguments of surveillance and “public safety” vs. privacy.

To round up:

Journalists need to ask themselves two questions: Have we a defence against the publication of clearly confidential material? Have we a defence against demand to reveal our source? 

Law Notes: Confidentiality: breach of confidence and privacy

Law of confidence safeguards information obtained in confidential circumstances (e.g. between private individuals or between a company and its employees).

For journalists there are three main areas of concern:

  1. Revealing facts about a person they would have expected to remain private.
  2. Revealing commercial secrets.
  3. Revealing state secrets or ‘official’ secrets.

Revealing state secrets or ‘official’ secrets:

The Official Secrets Act 1989 protects state secrets (military or intelligence matters). Journalists must beware of inadvertent breach by publishing photos of sensitive military installations. Breaches are a criminal offence. The act is rarely used as juries have been reluctant to convict ‘whistleblowers’ or others who can be ‘victims’ of the state.

Commercial confidentiality:

Commercial confidentiality is normally protected by the contract of employment. Staff won’t do things detrimental to their employer’s interests (e.g. reveal finance information helpful to competitors). Interest must always be balanced against the public interest which might dictate that publication is desirable.

Personal confidences or privacy:

Privacy is now also protected under Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights.

Elements of breach of confidence

  • Information must have ‘quality of confidence’ (i.e not trivial).
  • Circumstances must impose ‘an obligation of confidence’.
  • Unauthorised use of the information must cause ‘detriment’.

Defences against breach of confidence

  • Information doesn’t have ‘quality of confidence’; is trivial; no detriment.
  • Already in public domain.
  • In public interest to publish (e.g. exposes wrongdoing, negligence or hypocrisy).

Breach of confidence and the journalist’s dilemma

Journalists must decide when newsworthy confidential information is uncovered to either:

  1. Risk an injunction (legal stop) by seeking a response to the allegation OR;
  2. Publish material and take the risk of legal action for breach of confidence or possibly defamation is there is inaccuracy.
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Media Law Update (04 Feb): Analysis of Defamation and Libel

Personal commentary on the analysis of defamation and libel:

As a journalist it is important to identify three key dangers: when routine stories become defamatory, the traps you need to look out for, and the questions you need to ask yourself about a story.

The main focus of this week’s blog is how to avoid career-crippling hazards, a.k.a. defamation and the threat of libel action. Not only can committing a major libel end your career (or at the very least severely damage your reputation), settling a libel action can be very costly. Knowing what you need to prove about a story in advance will save you a lot of hassle and make you a better journalist.

A key piece of information to be aware of is the new law in this area: the Defamation Act 2013 which amends the old law (generally to the benefit of writers and journalists – which is great news for us!) In the past, many journalists believed that defamation law, in attempting to ‘strike a balance‘ between protecting reputation and allowing freedom of speech, was tilted in favour of claimants. But developments in recent years,such as the Defamation Act 2013, seem to have tilted the balance in favour of freedom of expression.

The new Defamation Act has raised the bar for potential litigants by demanding that claimants must now show that they have suffered (or could suffer) ‘serious harm’ to their reputation for a case to proceed (or in the case of a company – ‘substantial financial loss). In the past ‘harm’ was a matter for a libel jury and need not have been ‘serious’. The necessity to prove ‘serious‘ harm or loss has now been given statutory expression in the requirement in Section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013.

The Human Rights Act 2000 requires courts to pay regard to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, concerned with freedom of expression.

Now let’s take a look at the decision of the House of Lords in the Reynolds Vs. Times Newspapers (2001) case which famously extended the boundaries of the defence of privilege. The case provided the Reynolds defence, which has now been abolished and replaced in statutory form in Section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013, which introduces a defence of ‘publication on a matter of public interest‘.

In this case The House of Lords recognised for the first time that media publications can be protected by privilege providing they satisfy a test of public right to know and responsible journalism. Lord Nicholls set out ten non-exhaustive factors which would be considered when determining whether there was a duty-interest for media publications to the world at large. The subsequent case of Jameel Vs. Wall Street Journal Europe (2006) affirmed the defence, which was subsequently raised successfully in several defamation proceedings.

These are all great examples of evolving legislature and the ripple effect a single case can have on our law system.

Other reforms aiding freedom of expression include: the introduction of qualified privilege for peer-reviewed publications in scientific and academic journals, the widening of qualified privilege in relation to courts and press conferences and the liberalising of the honest opinion defence, formerly known as ‘fair comment‘.

McAlpine Vs. Bercow (2013) was a landmark legal case between Conservative peer Lord McAlpine and Sally Bercow, the wife of John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons. Lord McAlpine alleged that he was defamed by comments implying that he was a paedophile published by Sally Bercow on Twitter. This followed the broadcast on the 2nd November 2012 of a report by BBC Two’s Newsnight which falsely linked an unnamed “senior Conservative” politician to sex abuse claims. On 4 November 2012, Bercow tweeted “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face* When the allegations against McAlpine proved to be unfounded, the BBC subsequently apologised and paid £185,000 to McAlpine in damages. McAlpine donated the libel damages to Children in Need and other charities.

This case highlights two important points for journalists: the implications of inference and the costly consequences of libel action.

In the News:

In the news today (4th February 2015), it has been revealed that the Guardian has had to pay damages to former News of the World news editor, James Weatherup, over an extract from Nick Davies’s book Hack Attack. Weatherup is said to have received a four-figure sum from the newspaper and is also said to be pursuing publisher Random House. Weatherup took issue with allegations in the book that he ‘bullied staff, behaved inappropriately and wore tight-fitting tennis shorts to work’.

This case demonstrates well the importance not to assume that libel applies only to articles and that it in fact stretches across all forms of publishing, including books.

To round up:

Recognising risk is key: Is what I’m writing potentially defamatory? Who am I writing about, and could they sue? Do I have a defence? Always consult a lawyer.

Law Notes: Defamation

Definitions and dangers:

Defamation is a defamatory statement made in permanent form. It is generally libel and if in transient form it is generally slander if it cannot be defended. In a defamation action, the test of what words actually mean is the test of what a reasonable person would take them to mean. Words may carry innuendo, a ‘hidden’ meaning clear to people with special knowledge or create an inference, obvious to everybody. The financial implications of losing a defamation action in terms of damages and costs are so punitive that journalists must always consider whether what they are writing to plan to broadcast will be defensible if a defamation action results. Libel is a civil wrong resulting from a defamatory statement.  In TV journalists need to be careful of careless use of ‘wallpaper’ shots which can result in picture libel.

A defamatory comment is a statement which a reasonable man or woman may think ‘tends’ to:

  1. Lower someone in the estimation of right-thinking members of the public.
  2. Causes someone to be shunned or avoided.
  3. Disparages someone in their business, trade, office, or profession.
  4. 
Exposes someone to hatred, ridicule or contempt.

PUBLICATION + DEFAMATION + IDENTIFICATION = LIBEL

Why media organisations may be reluctant to fight defamation actions:

  • Uncertainty of how a judge will interpret meanings.
  • Difficulty of proving the truth.
  • Huge damages could be awarded if trial lost.
  • Huge costs.
  • It may be better to settle.
  • ‘No win, no fee’ legal representation.

The Court of Appeal has the power to substitute its own figure for a jury award it considers to be excessive or inadequate.

Under law as amended by 2013 Act the defences are listed as follows:

  • Serious harm: A new requirement for claimants to prove serious harm at the outset is effectively a bar against trivial claims. Without serious harm – there can be no defamation under the new Act. So the first line of defence is to show the harm done is insufficient. In the case of corporates, the test is whether “serious financial loss” has occurred or could occur.
  • Truth: This is the old ‘it’s true and I can prove it’ defence, previously known as justification. The imputation/allegation need only be “substantially true”.
  • Honest Opinion: Previously known as ‘fair comment’ – wording is simpler than before. The statement must be clearly an honestly-held opinion based upon a fact or facts which existed at the time of the statement. It no longer has to be on a matter of public interest. But as before (by definition) there must be no malice.
  • Publication on matter of public interest: This new section enshrines principles behind previous judgements. If material is published because it is “reasonably believed” to be in the public interest i.e of value for the public to know.
  • Website defence: If a statement is published on a website, the operator avoids action for libel if he can show that it was not the operator who was directly responsible. But the operator must comply with certain safeguards and the defence fails if, for example, the operator cannot identify who posted the statement, or the operator fails to respond to a notice of complaint.
  • Peer reviewed journals: Now carry protection of privilege, meaning that academic researchers and writers cannot be sued and their assertions can be re-published.
  • Absolute Privilege: Court reports – as long as they are fair, accurate and contemporaneous. And extended to international courts.
  • Qualified Privilege: Again where the law considers facts should be available in the public interest. Eg: Council meetings, public meetings, police statements, press conferences. Reports must be fair, accurate and without malice.Now extended (see provisions) to bodies such as international conferences, and official company documents.
  • Presumption against jury trials: This is likely to reduce costs, and remove some of the ‘lottery’ element associated with libel trials.
  • Single publication rule: Limitation of one year to bring an action from first publication i.e each click on a webpage does not reset the limitation clock.
  • Accord and Satisfaction: Publication of an agreed apology – newspapers carry these frequently. Broadcasters too – often in same slot as original. Hasty apologies may be made to mitigate damages – BBC.
  • Bane and antidote – you may get away with defamatory part of an article if the whole context changes the meaning.
  • Offer of Amends: Typically an agreed settlement combining an apology and payment of damages.
Posted in Media Law Update (2015) | Leave a comment

Media Law Update (28 Jan): Reporting crime and courts, prejudice and contempt

Personal commentary on the risks surrounding the reporting of crime and courts:

In order to be a successful journalist it is critical to understand the key facts surrounding the difference between criminal and civil law, the court structure, sources of law, free press, the people and above all restrictions. One of the most important skills to be learnt from this topic is learning how to recognise risk and then applying this knowledge to day-to-day reporting.

The main focus of this week’s blog is the reporting of crime and court stories, looking at how coverage of a crime story changes as it gets nearer to court. Identifying the risks involved in such reporting is getting increasingly harder as deadlines tighten and demand is growing in journalistic ability to produce lawfully sound pieces of journalism in a short amount of time.

The UK is a ‘free press‘ society (democratic) with freedom of expression. It has a hierarchy of courts, allowing a decision made by a lower court to be challenged by appeal to a higher court. The decisions made by higher courts are known as precedents. As part of the European Union, EU treaties and other EU law are part of UK law. The Council of Europe promotes individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law. The council’s work has led to both The European Convention for protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms AND the European Court of Human Rights which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force on the 2nd October 2000 and puts the Convention into UK law, increasing its influence on UK courts.

A key danger area for journalists is libel. When publishing an article, there could be libel risks if a suggestion is published, prior to any charge, that a suspect is guilty of a crime, if what is published identifies the suspect. A notable example of this is when the media were reporting on the Joanna Yeates murder case in 2010 and in doing so ‘vilified’ her landlord Christopher Jefferies:

“In 2o11, eight national newspapers made public apologies to Christopher Jefferies for the libellous allegations made against him following the murder of Joanna Yeates. In addition: The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Scotsman and Daily Express agreed to pay him substantial libel damages. According to a Guardian article Jefferies appeared at the Leveson inquiry into media ethics, and said he was shocked at how “casually inaccurate” some reporting was, such as a claim that floorboards were being pulled up in a flat with solid floors.”

In 2014, Peter Morgan attempted to solidify Jefferies exoneration with ‘The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies’, a two-and-a-half hour, two-part drama (on ITV). It is interesting to note that while including the names of the newspapers that libelled Jefferies, the television drama lets its own medium off comparatively sparingly, with only one reference to the screen coverage being “almost as bad” as the papers.

In the News:

Earlier this month, a government agent had to intervene after a reporter was barred from taking notes in a magistrates’ court. In an article published by Press Gazette, the reporter explains how journalist, Michael Cox, from the Yellow Advertiser, was not given journalistic access to the court for nearly an hour on the morning of the 9th January 2015. A HMCTS press officer contacted the court after being called by Advertiser news editor, Steve Neale. The refusal was described as a “genuine mistake”. Neale told the Press Gazette that the magistrates’ courts and the crown courts are becoming increasingly difficult to cover for a variety of reasons and that the publication has experienced incidents of reporters being refused access to the courts before because they’ve not got ID, which is irrelevant due to the fact that a court is public.

This is a great example of why it is crucial to know your rights as a journalist so that you can make sure that you can confidently argue your rights to report on crime and the courts.

To round up:

If the police or another governmental agency, in an official statement, identifies a person as a suspect, it is safe to report the statement but it is important to remember that some police informants are protected by anonymity orders. Journalists must always remember to recognise risk and if in doubt refer up to their editor for guidance.

Law Notes: Reporting Crime and Courts

Prejudice and contempt are the two big danger areas:

  1.  Prejudice is publishing facts or allegations about a defendant or case, before or during a trial, which could affect its fairness, e.g. by influencing jurors or potential jurors.
  2.  Contempt signifies a breach of the rules of crime and court reporting. The strict liability rule says it is a contempt to publish material which creates ‘a substantial risk’ of serious prejudice to active proceedings.

Writing a report

Be careful to notice things change between arrest and charge, and court appearance. Use only facts which will be uncontested in any trial, so it is safe.

When a case becomes legally active there a definite prospect of a person facing trial and therefore it is important to know what these are:

  • When police make an arrest
  • When an arrest warrant is issued
  • A summons is issued by magistrates
  • A person has been charged

Sometimes police can be uncommunicative to the press for operational reasons which is something to bear in mind in fast-moving cases. What you can broadcast at the top of one hour may change to the next.

Limits on detention without charge

  • Police normally have max 24 hours to question. Depending on circumstances this period can run from the time of the arrest or from when the suspect was brought into the police station
  • Can be extended by 12 hours by senior officer if it is an indictable offence
  • Magistrates can then extend for further 36 hours
  • Detention cannot exceed 96 hours except if people are suspected of terrorism can be detained 14 days without charge
  • Terror suspects can be held for 28 days

Police bail is where police want more time to complete inquiries a suspect may be given police bail to return to a police station later.

Arrests

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 a police officer can arrest a person who has committedis committing or is about to commit an offence (however minor), or anyone about whom there are reasonable grounds for suspicion.

The officer must have reasonable grounds for believing the arrest is necessary to achieve one of the purposes specified in the Act. For example:

  • The arrest is necessary to allow ‘prompt and effective investigation’ of a crime
  • The arrest is necessary to stop a person from obstructing the highway

Police can use ‘reasonable force‘ to make an arrest. An arrest automatically makes the case ‘active‘ under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, affecting what can be published about it.

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 safeguards the fairness of trials. A breach is a contempt offence, for which a media organisation can be heavily fined or an individual jailed for a maximum of two years.

Police investigations are driven by the standard of proof needed to convict someone of a crime. Reporters need to understand police powers to arrest and detain. Although there is a strong public interest in media reporting of crime and police interests there are many things the media need to be wary of including:

  1. Contempt of court, law made ‘active’ when a crime suspect is arrested.
  2. Libel, if media reports identify a suspect before he/she is charged.

Standard of proof in criminal law

The presumption of innocence’ is a legal principle which means that those charged with criminal offences are not required to prove themselves innocent. The responsibility is on the prosecution to prove guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt‘ which is the standard of proof necessary in criminal law for a conviction. Those who investigate crime (e.g. the police) need clear evidence to meet this standard. In civil law it is necessary to prove on the ‘balance of probabilities’.

Prosecuting agencies

  • Local authorities, e.g. tenancy disputes, trading standards
  • Serious Fraud Office
  • Revenue and Customs (tax)
  • RSPCA and also (rarely) other private prosecutions

Criminal law and civil law

There are two main divisions of the law:

  1. Criminal law handles offences against the whole community and thus against the sovereign. In criminal courts a defendant is prosecuted, pleads guilty or not guilty, and will be acquitted or convicted (either to be fined or jailed).
  2. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals and organisations, and includes the redress of torts – wrongs suffered – including medical negligence, defamation and breach of copyright. It is also in place to resolve disputes between couples such as divorce actions. In civil courts a claimant sues a defendant or respondent, who admits or denies liability, and is found either liable (to pay damages) or not liable.

Categories of criminal offence

  • Indictable-only: the most serious offences (murder, rape, robbery) which must be tried or sentenced in a Crown Court and carry possible sentence of 5 years or more.
  • Either-way offences: as the name suggests can be heard either by magistrates or a Crown Court. Depends on gravity of allegation. Theft, burglary, assault, sexual assault.
  • Summary offences: most motoring offences (speeding, drink-driving; assault, shop lifting.

High offices in law

To help ensure that the judiciary is independent of political influence, and that the government is subject to the rule of law, the government remains separate. The head of the judiciary is the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas. The UK Government is advised on law by the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, who also has a role in prosecutions including proceedings against media organisations for contempt of court.

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Magistrates’ courts

All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court. Cases are heard by either two or three magistrates or a district judge. There isn’t a jury in a magistrates’ court. There are more than 300 courthouses in England & Wales but soon to be less. The court clerk advises on legal matters. Different types of hearing include: guilty pleas and sentencing; summary trials; bail applications; Civil functions such as family & divorce hearings, access to children (subject to reporting restrictions).

There are three main functions of Magistrates’ Court: Adult criminal court, Youth court and Family proceedings court. There are also three main outcomes from Magistrates Court: indictable crime (minimum 5 years) which must be referred to Crown Court; minor crime (fine) – either way offence; and non custodial (a sentence not resulting in prison).

Powers:

  • Up to 6 months jail for single offence, fines up to £5000.
  • Suspended sentences (e.g. for 2 years) unless there is a repeat offence.
  • Community order (e.g. unpaid work, curfew or tag, drug treatment).
  • Absolute Discharge meaning there no punishment needed beyond fact of conviction (‘Suffered enough already’).
  • Conditional discharge meaning no immediate penalty but a conditional on good behaviour (e.g. no more offending).
  • Binding over to keep the peace (ancient origins) meaning if the defendant agrees, prosecution may decide to drop charges. If there are ‘breaches of the peace’ within a specified time, a surety will be forfeited.
  • A restraining order can be given to someone acquitted at trial and is given typically to prevent harassment of others.

Key reporting restrictions in Magistrates Courts:

Reporting restrictions are necessary to ensure a fair trial later on and information published before a trial will prejudice the result.

Below are the seven points you can report at pre-trial hearings:

  • Names of defendants, ages, addresses, occupations
  • Charges faced or a close summary
  • Name of court and magistrates names
  • Names of solicitors or barristers present
  • Date and place to where case is adjourned
  • Any arrangements as to bail
  • Whether legal aid was granted

Nothing else can generally be reported, unless restrictions are lifted by a Judge sitting in a Crown Court or the defence makes an application to do so.

Children and young people

Particular rules apply, from the age of criminal responsibility (10) until attainment of adulthood (18).

Youth Court:

  • Less formal with specially trained magistrates.
  • Strict anonymity is the rule, for defendants and witnesses (Section 49 orders).
  • Journalists can attend youth courts but not the public.
  • Restrictions apply to all aspects that might identify.
  • Section 39 orders apply to juveniles in adult proceedings.
  • Beware ‘Jigsaw identification’ (the ability to identify someone by using two or more different pieces of information especially when the person’s identity is meant to be secret for legal reasons).

Youth court powers:

  • Community punishment, fines, conditional discharge.
  • Youth rehabilitation orders including various curfews/requirements.
  • Detention orders up to 2 years.
  • Parenting orders.
  • Very serious cases (murder/manslaughter) go to Crown Court.

Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs)

An order which can be made against a young person (or adult) to prevent repetition of behaviour which causes harassment, alarm or distress.  It is a civil law order but breach is a criminal offence. ASBO orders can be made in Magistrates’ Courts sitting in civil capacity or can be imposed by youth courts or after a defendant has been convicted of an offence – known as ‘Bolt-on’ hearing.

Crown Courts

Crown courts deal with the most serious criminal cases. Crown court judges rule on law and decide on punishment, and in trials juries decide whether each charge is proved. Automatic reporting restrictions limit what the media can report from most Crown court hearings held prior to trial. A defendant convicted in a Crown court can seek to appeal to the Court of Appeal, and thereafter to the Supreme Court. Crown courts hear appeals from magistrates’ courts against conviction or sentence. The High Court is also an appeal court for certain matters.

Big differences:

  • Jury trials
  • Judges of varying seniority
  • Barristers and solicitors
  • Cases may last several days, weeks or months

If the jury is not present proceedings should not be reported. Reporters in covering court proceeding enjoy ‘absolute privilege’ which is a complete defence against any action for defamation. But it depends on the report being ‘fair, accurate and contemporaneous’. Defamatory shouts from the public gallery are not privileged. As a rule of thumb anything said in absence of jury is not reportable.

Court orders are typically made to protect identification of children who may feature in a case. It is up to the media to make sure all references heard in court to names and places are removed.

Key stages of a trial :

  • Prosecution opening
  • Key prosecution witnesses
  • Defence opening (could be weeks later)
  • Key defence witnesses
  • Judge’s summing up
  • Jury sent out, deliberation, clarification, verdict.
  • Sentencing

To maintain the protection of absolute privilege, a report must be:

  • Fair – balance between both sides – over length of trial
  • Accurate – need for shorthand!
  • Published contemporaneously – i.e next deadline
  • No electrical recording devices or photos in court.

Lawyers may be either solicitors or barristers:

  • Solicitors deal directly with the client and represent them in court (solicitor-advocates may appear in the higher courts). Solicitors are there to advise, prepare the client’s case, and take advice from a barrister when deemed necessary.
  • Barristers are known as ‘counsel’. In the higher courts, the Crown courts and county courts (with the exception of magistrates court), they are permitted to wear a wig and gown. Those who have been practicing for the minimum of ten years may apply to the Lord Chancellor for appointment as a Queen’s Counsel (allowing them to use the letter QC after their names).
Posted in Media Law Update (2015) | Leave a comment

Critical Reflection: Year Three, Semester One

WINOL has expanded this semester as our team more than doubled in size allowing students to explore new niche areas in features and sports producing some fantastic work. News has also been transformed as multiple reporters now cover politics in different local constituencies helping develop invaluable experience in preparation for next year’s General Election. In addition, there was the introduction of a new ‘WINOL Politics Show’ – incorporating documentaries and in-studio discussions.

The way in which features are produced is unrecognisable to this time last year as written media has been revolutionised into television – transforming something that was once solely pictures into something much more visually interesting.

Football now generates a much larger part of our audience, and as the team has expanded, sports now produce vast amounts of content with highlights featured every week in our bulletin, alongside sister programme ‘Sportsweek’, giving news editors tougher decisions on what to keep and what to spike.

Access Winchester has been remodeled into ‘WinchXtra’ with presenters securing impressive high profile interviewees such as Jacqueline Wilson and Tom Deacon. ‘The Week Ahead’ was revived to help reporters keep on top of their beats and new website W2 was launched by BBC South’s, Laura Trant, who described students as ‘super keen, very organised and very calm.’

Winchester News Online won yet another award in the latest BJTC honours which was a great achievement. The team won News Day of the Year for the third time in a row in the award ceremony hosted by Birmingham City University.

This term, we linked to the United States – to our sister University in Illinois – regarding the protests in Missouri which was great experience for everybody involved working under pressure on an international story and meeting deadlines.

With multiple students working in the social media team we managed to reach over 2000 followers on our Twitter page (@WINOL) gaining over 200 new followers this semester alone. Students showed great market penetration and a strong ability to communicate to viewers. As well as gathering more followers on Twitter and YouTube our social media influence has also spread to Facebook, Flickr, Vimeo, Google Plus, Instagram and Pinterest.

The audience for WINOL is hard to define, as we do not solely aim our content at students on campus – as this is too narrow. Instead we broaden out into larger areas such as Southampton and Portsmouth and although this is not boosting our views it heightens our professionalism.

This semester we managed to beat unique IPs from last year and we also beat monthly views. But, WINOL’s success has not been reflected in its Internet ranking. WINOL currently has a global Alexa ranking of 3,610,739 compared to last semester’s 1,380,408 -showing a dramatic drop. When comparing this to our main competitor, East London Lines (ELL), who currently have a much-improved global ranking of 638,040, there is some cause for concern. One reason that we are currently below our competitors could be due to the fact that we don’t publish any content over the summer. Another contributing factor could be our location; our competitor ELL covers Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon – where population (and audience) is very high. Whereas we cannot do much about our location, we should consider the possibility of MA Journalism students editing the website over the summer months – as ELL is currently being edited by a team of student journalists who study MA Journalism at Goldsmiths, so this is something that we can learn from.

Despite low circulation globally, our circulation locally is still very good when considering our student population and figures on our website do not always represent a true reflection of our views that we receive on YouTube – notably Lauren’s story of 87-year-old dance sensation, Ronald Burgess – which generated almost 1000 views on our YouTube account.

Guest editors from a variety of professional backgrounds have visited WINOL on our weekly news days to observe and critique our work. As well as Laura Trant from BBC South, WINOL was very fortunate to have Ian Sherwood from SKY News as our guest editor who said we were ‘very close to the reality of a regional newsroom’, adding that ‘content is hugely incredible’. It was interesting to find out that SKY News use the same DSLR cameras as us, which demonstrates the high level of training that we are receiving. Other guest editors included OMNISPORT Bulletin Producer, Graham Bell; Claudia Murg – whose background lies within investigative journalism; as well as freelance broadcast journalist, Chris Coneybeer.

The way in which the role of news editor was allocated changed this semester, as it was decided that students, instead of lecturers, would alternate every week to give reporters the opportunity to learn new skills. I chose to be news editor for the first official bulletin which I found extremely challenging but very rewarding. The bulletin that week received mostly positive feedback and included many good elements such as Meg’s spin on a national story involving Milk prices, a lovely ‘And Finally’ by Nadidja about a new-born donkey and an overall improved production. I was very happy with the order of the bulletin and the headlines that I chose. If I were to take on the role again I would pay closer attention to making sure communication was completely fluid between reporters and myself as there were some instances where I think I overlooked issues such as presenting.

As well as producing weekly articles and profile interviews for the Justice Gap, my role this year progressed from police and crime reporter to crime correspondent in WINOL and expectations increased in regards to quality, interviews and overall content of my packages. Since the beginning of this year I have taken a keen interest in the Justice Gap and continued writing for the publication over the summer, traveling to London many weeks to conduct interviews by myself with high profile figures such as Shami Chakrabarti, Evan Harris and Steve Hewlett. In doing so I gained a lot more confidence, which has helped me massively this semester.

I aimed to produce packages, on average, every other week to give myself more time to focus on attaining high profile interviews. My package surrounding rising violence in prisons with Governor of HMP Winchester, David Rogers, is a good example of this as it took a couple of weeks to secure the in-studio chat. I believe this interview was possibly one of my best as the Governor is a great speaker and the way in which it was shot was much more professional. I decided to conduct the interview in the studio but I set up two DSLR cameras and used a JVC for sound to improve the quality. Despite this, I don’t feel as though this is one of my strongest packages as I was very short on pictures and the story didn’t work very well for television. I had to create my own graphics for this package which was a great learning curve, and useful to build up additional skills, although as a result they weren’t as impressive as previous weeks.

Unfortunately, this semester the press officers at Hampshire Constabulary have been less willing to work with our crime team at the University as we do not produce high enough ratings to be prioritised when stories break. As a result, crime stories have been very hard in terms of arranging police interviews and students on our team have had to be resourceful when producing packages. An example of this is when I decided to do a breaking story surrounding 40% unrecorded crimes by Hampshire Police. Unable to arrange an interview with the police, I decided to do a debrief in the studio using the green screen behind to superimpose graphics. The graphics, produced by Calum with some of my own input, provided a great visual aid and I learnt a new skill, ‘keying’, as I edited the package together in Final Cut Pro. My confidence in presenting has definitely improved this semester, as well as my script writing.

My Immigration Street package is a good example of my work for the Justice Gap linking up to WINOL. An interview I conducted for the Justice Gap with MP John Denham also lent itself to a good local story for WINOL surrounding residents in Southampton opposing filming for a new Channel 4 series. As a result, I had to request additional permission for the interview to be used for our student bulletin – this is very important, as interviewees must always consent when using footage for a different publication. As a visual package – produced for television – this story was very sensitive and had to be approached with caution. Residents were very angry about how they had been treated by other filming crews in the past; therefore interviewing anyone from the street was out of the question. Instead, I arranged an interview with local Councillor, Satvir Kaur, who is very familiar with the community and residents’ views and who also lived on the street. Cllr Kaur advised me against filming on the street but gave me her contact card should anyone protest if I decided to go ahead. I took the Cllr’s advice under serious consideration and decided to compromise and film in a quieter, less densely populated area of the street where my presence would be less likely to offend but I still attracted a lot of attention from the residents and I settled on doing a single take for my PTC and a few brief shots before making my way back to the newsroom. Safety is always important when filming on location and I had a friend help me film on the day.

Visually, I was most proud of my New Forest Pony package, as filming all of the content outside meant that interviews had better sound and looked more interesting. Again, the story was quite sensitive as it reports that the number of animal deaths have risen in the area due to speeding drivers. I contacted the Verderers who were extremely helpful in arranging an interview with Head Agister, Jonathan Gerrelli, who was a great speaker; and the organisation provided me with some images of animal deaths from previous accidents. The aim of showing such images would not have been to upset viewers but warn them of the possible consequences of speeding. But, when discussing the pictures with the news editor we decided to spike them as they were too gruesome and as plans were already being put in place to help improve the situation in the New Forest, there was no point in risking upsetting viewers. To lighten the story I conducted a case study at a local stables, which was great fun and gave me the rare opportunity (in crime) to be creative with my shots. I interviewed a rider whilst on her horse and attached a GoPro to her whilst she attended one of her lessons, which looked very effective – despite the rain.

I think it’s important that the course remains very much focused on practical work with students producing a bulletin every week so as to continue learning and improving from previous mistakes.

Reporters are still struggling to attend news conferences with more than one story although I was very impressed the week that I was news editor at their ability to find other stories when their originals fell through.

Production has progressed massively this year and the use of a hard drive as opposed to tapes, in the gallery, improves transfer and quality of footage. Tweaks still need to be made in the studio in terms of lighting and cameras. I think that one way to improve this is to record in the studio against a green screen and then transfer the backgrounds in post-production as I found that this worked really well in one of my packages.

I am confident that the progress that I have made this semester will continue to improve and that the skills I have learnt will help me in finding some great work experience over the following months.

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