BE LEGAL: Six things a hyperlocal blogger really should know about the law

Pic credit:
The scales of justice
Originally uploaded by Soggy Semolina 

There is an amazing vibrancy, vibrancy and passion about hyperlocal blogs.

With the bottom falling out of newspapers self-motivated people are filling the news gap themselves.

No town, housing estate or tower block is too small or disconnected to support these grassroots newsgatherers.

But to a qualified journalist turned press officer like myself the potential for danger in the ice field of libel law is terrifying.

Chatting to the excellent Philip John of the Lichfield Blog at a recent Black Country Social Media Cafe it’s clear this hasn’t escaped attention.

The idea of registering a company for a blog is an excellent way of getting yourself some protection.

Why? Because British libel laws are amongst the most draconian in the world.

At some point I’m convinced someone will lose their house in the not too distant future over an internet blog post. It’s potentially that serious.

This isn’t a shot across the bows for local bloggers from an old hack who doesn’t ‘get’ social media. Far from it.

In the words of former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans “I love newspapers. But I’m intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet.”

This is more a call to action for the blogging community to be as legally aware as they are SEO-savvy.

Of course, not everyone should have to take a law exam before they are allowed onto WordPress. That defeats the object of Web 2.0.

What I am arguing for is as the blogging community slowly self-organises legal advice, or a place where a blogger could find it, is an overdue must.

It’s excellent that Talk About Local have further enhanced their reputation by spotting this need and they now have a place to go.

They have also drafted a nine point manifesto themselves to help. Maybe a tenth should be “Be legal.”?

This would be self-preservation. It could also help construct foundations for a bridge of trust between bloggers and local councils and other organisations.

With the advent of no win no fee legal firms sniffing around blog comments it’s also increasingly important.

SIX things every hyperlocal needs to know about media law:

1. Libel law covers the web – legal action is rare but you need to know what you blog about could become actionable in every jurisdiction on the planet. Technically.

2. It is big money – Living Marxism magazine folded in 2000 after two television reporters and ITN won £375,000 after being accused of sensationalising images of an emaciated Muslim in a Serb run detention camp in Bosnia.

3. It’s useful to know what libel is – there are defences against libel. Here is a link with British Libel laws explained 

4. Don’t touch court reports – The rules around court reporting in the UK are so strict, so complex and carry unlimited penalties that all but the foolish would look at it. Take freelance reporters’ copy direct if you like. Don’t lift it from newspapers. And don’t try it at home. Contempt of court is about as much fun as serious illness.

5. Have a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists by your side. It’s the media industry standard. It can save lives. It could save yours.

6. Use the Talk About Local site designed as a signpost for finding legal advice.

LINKS

Philip John: Getting serious about #hyperlocal blogs. Great piece about media law http://bit.ly/VCf1D

Social By Social legal issues for hyperlocals debate http://bit.ly/2EnY9M

My earlier blog about what hyperlocals mean for Local Government http://bit.ly/nkPrD

Great presentation on media law for bloggers and journalists by Paul Bradshaw http://bit.ly/22NeNs