Monday, December 03, 2007

Shanoff: Cynical About "Responsible Journalism" Defence

Sun Media writer and lawyer, Alan Shanoff, is cynical about the "responsible journalism defence" in libel actions, as enunciated by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in last month's Cusson decision:

Leaving aside for a moment the utter vagueness of this defence, I have to tell you I doubt this ruling is going to do anything other than cause headaches for the media. Any attempt to use this defence will bring judges and juries into the newsrooms of the nation.

I can see it already. Responsible journalism defences will fall for any of the following reasons: The language used was too sensationalistic; the story wasn't important enough to merit the space; you didn't speak to every possible source; the sources you used were biased; you didn't critically test the information given; you should have done more to verify the information; you didn't report the other side adequately; you rushed to judgment; you didn't interpret the documents properly; the tone of the article was too shrill. And on and on.

As I see it, all this case has done is give courts more reasons to shoot down media defences and has given the courts the right to second guess every editor's work.

...So let's not celebrate just yet. Let's wait and see whether this ruling proves to be historic or just a royal pain for the media.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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