Friday, October 30, 2009

Avoiding Online Problems

Since the promulgation of the Electronic Information & Transaction (ITE) Law last year, anyone who are accused of Defaming other people through the Internet may be detained by the Police.

The most popular case being the Prita vs. Omni Hospital Case, whereby Prita was detained for three weeks by the Police for e-mailing her friends about the bad experiences she has had at the hospital.

Considering this fact, I would like to share with you about the articles that I have read in the newsletter of Bernstein Crisis Management which provide some tips to avoid legal problems in doing our online activities.
Happy reading.

When Wronged Or Defamed, Get An Immediate Correction
First in a three-part series
By Rene A. Henry

As long as I can remember I've always been told to never have an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel. And for years, I've heard lawyers tell their clients that it is a waste of time to ask for a correction or apology from a newspaper or magazine as well as a radio or television station.

Now, because of the Internet, more than ever before it is more important to immediately correct any incorrect information that is published or broadcast. Once misinformation is published and republished, broadcast and re-broadcast, fiction quickly becomes fact. The longer the delay, the more the error will be repeated and republished on websites, blogs and in other media. With the Internet, in only a matter of seconds the reputation of an individual or company can be destroyed worldwide with the click of a computer key.

When wrong information is published or broadcast, contact the reporter or writer and ask for a correction or retraction. If you are not successful, speak to the editor or news director. The Internet is difficult to police and correct and too many individuals use it as a means to malign and defame others and then hide behind a veil of anonymity. When there is no resolve, hire a good First Amendment lawyer.

Harold Burson, founding chairman of Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest public relations firms in the world, notes that a negative article in a small newspaper or on one of the cable news programs that once reached an audience of a thousand readers or viewers, can easily become an audience of more than a million if posted on YouTube or Twitter.

"When posted on a mega-viewed website the negative message gains credibility," Burson says. "Being there implies a trusted third party endorsement; a respected outlet, in effect, vouched for the content." He adds that YouTube and Twitter are as easily accessed from Malaysia or Moscow as from Memphis or Manhattan.

"Thanks to modern technology, all a person needs to extract and use information from a false, archived article is a PC, Google, and a disposition to work someone else's old material into an article on the theory that if Big Media reported it five years ago without repercussions, it must be true," says John J. Walsh, senior counsel of Carter Ledyard and Milburn, New York.

Walsh says an injured party can ask for a correction, a retraction or an apology. "A correction by the publisher tells the public that a mistake was made and provides the correct facts," he says. "A retraction advises the public that specific statements are withdrawn, usually accompanied by an apology, or at least a statement of regret."

Professional Codes of Ethics

Most media organizations belong to professional organizations that have strong codes of ethics and almost all responsible media will correct or retract a factual error. Exceptions happen when lawyers threaten to sue for libel and where there are gray areas. The gray areas include a strong opinion or bias by the reporter or editor and this creates a disagreement and an interpretation between parties of what is wrong information.

"We will not knowingly publish anything that offends conventional rules of family-oriented decency or good taste, or anything that is defamatory," say Desmond Seales, publisher and editor-in-chief of Caribbean Net News. "This includes letters, commentaries and other opinion pieces."

Libel laws vary from state-to-state and country-to-country not only in time limitations but definition. In its Stylebook, The Associated Press says libel means injury to reputation. According to the AP, there is only one complete and unconditional defense to a civil action for libel: the facts stated are not probably true, but provably true. Unlike the U.S., where many jury awards are reduced or thrown out on appeal, libel is a very serious offense. In some countries it is a criminal offense where the writer can be sent to jail. Justice is swift in the United Kingdom and English-speaking Caribbean where courts have little tolerance for lawyers' delay tactics and judgments and awards are almost never appealed. Recently, criminal libel laws were in 17 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some of the laws are now being challenged in state courts.

It's Never Too Late to Right A Wrong

While statutes of limitation on libel and defamation claims expire in most jurisdictions after one year, there should never be a time limit on righting a wrong.

"If individuals and companies believe they have been treated unfairly, they have a right to seek a correction and the journalist and the news organization has a responsibility to listen and try to resolve any differences," says Dr. Robert M. Steele, professor of journalism at DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana. "Staff cutbacks in all media have reduced news gathering resources and regardless of an organization's institutional quality control, errors do happen. There is no foolproof system of checks and balances to catch many errors and this is compounded with deadline pressures.

"The debate between the offended party and the news organization can be more of a subjective issue of what and what is not true," Steele says. "A news organization has an obligation to be accessible, to hear and discuss concerns regarding any problems in the reporting process, and to correct a mistake regardless when it was reported." Steele not only is educating future journalists, but also teaches professionals at The Poynter Institute, St. Petersburg, Florida. [Most Media Will Admit Mistakes and Correct Them Promptly] The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) was founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi fraternity and now has 9,000 members throughout the U.S. The organization's first code of ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. SPJ, which believes the duty of journalists is to serve the truth, wrote its own code in 1973.

"Correcting what is wrong is an open-ended concept. It doesn't include an expiration date," says Andy Schotz of Hagerstown, Maryland, chair of the SPJ's ethics committee. "Ideally and ethically, the correction should be run as soon as possible after the error is discovered or brought to the media outlet's attention," says Fred Brown of Aurora, Colorado, vice-chair of the committee.

The Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) is the world's largest professional organization exclusively serving the electronic news profession. It has more than 3,000 news directors, news associates, educators and students. RTNDA was founded in 1946 and established its code of ethics which was expanded in 2000 to include accountability. The organization is dedicated to setting standards for newsgathering and reporting in radio, television, cable and electronic media. Its first code of ethics and professional conduct has sections on public trust, truth, fairness, integrity, independence and accountability.

"Professional electronic journalists are accountable for their actions," says Barbara Cochran, president of RTNDA. "Whenever an error is made known to an organization it must be corrected. However, with the Internet, today it is almost impossible to correct and eradicate where an error might be published. Our members must operate as trustees of the public, seek the truth, report it fairly and with integrity and independence."

Next in this series: Be careful what you say, where you say it, how the Internet has defined Freedom of Speech, and differences in the way libel is treated.

Rene A. Henry is an author and columnist and lives in Seattle, Washington. His latest book, "Communicating In A Crisis," has a specific chapter on how to fight back and win. Many of his widely published commentaries are posted on his website, www.renehenry.com.

2 comments:

Duckham said...

Retractions in newspapers in the UK are usually put on an inside page and run for one day. The main story that defamed someone may run for several days on the front page. I have never seen a retraction on the internet. The only safeguard here seems to be the cynicism of those experienced in posting and using the net. Most of us I think know that there is a lot of lying rubbish about and look for confirmation before believing someone publishing anything. Present company excepted Harry as I trust you and this blog implicitly!

H. Nizam said...

Duckham,

Although I never seen retraction on the internet, but I believe that it can be done.
Thank you for your trust.