By MEREDITH GILLIES
Tim Currie, a journalism professor from University of King’s College in Halifax, says before journalists tweet they must ensure that the issue is in the public’s interest, that they are being fair to the one being defamed and they have done everything possible to get the other side of the story. These guidelines for journalists are set out in the responsible communications defence outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The December 22, 2009 decision expanded the protections against libel for journalists who are reporting on matters of public interest. And it shifts the focus away from what was broadcasted or published, and places it on the actions of the reporters or editors who created the story. The courts took many elements of “good journalism” and recognized them in law.
“Good journalism” in this case is journalism that is fair, uses reliable sources and involves chasing important stories, University of King’s College journalism professor Dean Jobb wrote on J-Source.
Journalists aren’t the only ones protected by the defence. Currie said it applies to anyone who publishes information on the internet that is in the public’s interest — whether it’s a citizen journalist publishing a blog or a newspaper publishing online.
Currie also warned that incorrect tweets can take on a life of their own despite journalists’ efforts to correct errors.
If the tweet has been extensively retweeted there is no way to ensure the correction will be distributed as widely. And deleting the tweet won’t result in the deletion of retweets, Currie pointed out.
Although the responsible communications defence gives journalists greater protection, Currie said reporters should still err on the side caution when they are tweeting. It must be made obvious to followers, he said, that the tweets are not a complete story and that the journalist is investigating further.
“It’s important to say, here’s what we know and here’s what we don’t know. Use a hashtag like #unverified or #werelookingintoit to denote that in a tweet we are conducting the process of journalism as opposed to issuing a product,” he advised.