While there is no way to prevent a lawsuit when you work in the media, you can take steps to protect yourself from liability. This way, even if a lawsuit does arise, you will be able to defend yourself from frivolous claims and mitigate any liability you may face. Some general tips and tricks for avoiding lawsuits and liability as a member of the media include:
Strive for Accuracy
Truth is the primary defense to defamation claims. If what you published is true, no one can file a legitimate definition claim, and you can quickly have any case against you dismissed.
Do Your Research
Once again, if you don’t want to be sued for defamation, do your best not to publish anything false or misleading. Research any claims you make and keep a copy of your fact-checking efforts. Save all your research, documentary materials, and drafts – and make copies of source materials, as they may not be available online later.
Your research and drafts should paint a picture of your work and quest for accuracy.
Cite Your Sources
Choose reliable sources and cite them in your work. Keep in mind that confidential sources can be risky because you may not be able to reveal their identity in court. When you quote a source, be as accurate as possible. Your sources can help you prove the truth of anything you publish.
If you are writing about someone, ask them for permission. Consent is one of your strongest defenses in a defamation claim. To get consent, you can ask for it directly or send the subject of your piece a copy of your fact-checking draft. While direct consent is always better, failure to respond to your draft could be interpreted as implied consent.
Give Your Subject a Chance to Respond
Whenever you publish something that may harm someone’s reputation, give them an opportunity to respond. Even if your subject responds with “no comment,” your actions show journalistic integrity, and your subject has a chance to fact-check your work.
These can be valuable points in a defamation suit.
Be Careful with Businesses
Businesses often have financial interests tied to their reputations, and they also have lawyers and resources. If you want to publish negative information about businesses, make sure you issue fair and accurate criticism and do not interfere with fair trade or fair competition.
If you are sponsored by a business, for example, you may need to be more careful what you write about their competitors.
Acknowledge Mistakes and Make Corrections
Not everyone will be happy with what you publish, even if it is 100% accurate. Nevertheless, you must be willing to correct legitimate mistakes. If someone asks you to correct or retract something, investigate carefully, and if you find an error, acknowledge it, and correct it as quickly as possible.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
As a country, the United States guarantees the rights of a free press. Still, you must follow certain guidelines and make sure journalistic privileges apply to your statements. Under the Neutral Report Privilege, for example, you must be fair in accusations and attribute accusations to sources, and under the Opinion and Fair Comment Privilege, you must identify which statements are opinions and which are facts.
What If I Get Sued Anyway?
Unfortunately, many high-profile individuals and institutions file defamation claims with no basis in legal fact. These are called frivolous lawsuits, and while you can dismiss them almost immediately, you will still have to recruit lawyers and appear in court.
If you face a defamation suit, you need a legal team that will not only defend you but also highlight frivolous lawsuits and help you get your money back.
At McIntyre Tate LLP, we keep a careful eye on media liability law, and we do everything in our power to defend your rights, reputation, and best interest.
If you do your best work and find yourself facing a lawsuit, call us at (401) 351-7700 or contact us online and put over 150 years of combined legal experience on your side.