There Are Surprisingly Few Legal Barriers to Political Journalism

In beginning a blog, particularly one of a political nature, I thought I’d have to be super careful to avoid libel suits or violate some code of conduct. Turns out there really are not all that many legal barriers to political journalism beyond.

Defamation is perhaps the most obvious, but defamation law is surprisingly lenient, given the UKs reputation for free speech in comparison to, say, the USA.

Truth, public interest, and even opinion are cited in the 2013 Defamation Act as viable defences against defamation suits. Given the public nature of politics and how the actions of those with political power are in the public interest, an exposé of a politician would not be grounds for a defamation suit.

Perhaps this perception is warped, as making a true defamatory statement about a politician which is also true is much easier today than it were a decade ago. While it would accurately represent my point of view, it would require careful craftsman ship to safely publish an article which stated that Tony Blair had committed war crimes by sanctioning the invasion of Iraq. However, there are plenty of citations to be found to back the claim that Boris Johnson has made statements which appear to be racist, homophobic and/or sexist.

Despite this, minor slip ups that snowball out of control are plentiful. On mentioning Boris Johnsons racism, one could point out the defamation suit Frankie Boyle won after being accused of racism. The defence by Boyle cited by the Mirror is that he wasn’t racist, but his characters were. Had the defendents claimed that he made characters which normalised racism, and therefore reinforced a societal acception of racism, it appears the case may have gone the other way.

I’d say that the biggest issue with challenges to journalists and what they write isn’t really even a legal one, but an institutional one. Most media regulations are internal codes of conduct. Even Ofcom is an body independent of the government, though tightly connected. It is my evaluation that I would face more employment obstacles for my prior articles accusing the BBC of being impartial than I would for poorly substantiating my opinion that a former prime minister is a war criminal only two paragraphs ago, because an internally regulatory industry is prone to be self serving while also regularly failing to investigate regulatory breaches.

The legal whimsicality of the press is often defended in the name of press freedom. The NUJs code of conduct cites promotion of press freedom as their first and foremost expectation of a journalist. Though it’s hard to say that the media is free from governmental restrictions when the head of the BBC has donated over £400,000 to the Conservative party.



A social democrat eager for truth and justice in political journalism.

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Kurt Scott

A social democrat eager for truth and justice in political journalism.