How not to write the yearly review

CHRISTMAS IS A-COMING. The goose is getting fat – and you’re just about to.

And
if you’re a reporter or a sub on a newspaper, or even a magazine or
radio or TV station, something else may happen too… you could be asked
to compile the inevitable Review of the Year.

Aaargh! Even the
mere mention of “Review of the Year” is enough to strike dread into the
most hardened journalist… and could even prompt a flurry of sick notes
over the next few days.

But one thing’s for sure: the Review of
the Year is as much part of a journalist’s Christmas as the Queen’s
speech – and is nowhere near as enjoyable.

Of course, it doesn’t
mean anything to the readers, most of whom have no interest whatsoever
in the year gone by. No, its sole purpose is to fill up a few early
pages for the post-Christmas issue.

The Review of the Year was something to be avoided in every office I worked in.

One
chief sub I knew attempted to produce it after staggering back to the
office after the Christmas party. His efforts collapsed, and so did he,
after he found that he was not able to see the end of his pen, and
couldn’t even remember which year it was.

Then there was the
deputy editor who was so bored with the review that he rushed it, and
got April and November mixed up. The equally unenthusiastic proofreader
didn’t notice, either. But there again, neither did any readers. There
was not a single complaint about the Easter bunny pictures featuring in
November.

In another office I worked in, the review was so
diligently avoided that the editor delegated it to his deputy, who then
passed it to the chief sub… and it cascaded down the ranks before
landing on the desk of a 16-year-old schoolboy who was doing work
experience at the time.

Suffice to say that the Review of the
Year does not rate very highly in the sub’s list of Jobs to Take Care
With. Which is strange, because the review is, in fact, fraught with
legal dangers.

Here then, are some things to watch out for if you
happen to draw the short straw and compile, or sub, the Review of the
Year: 1. Convictions in court cases (i)n That armed robber who was
convicted at Crown Court in January… has he since been cleared on
appeal? If he has, then mentioning his conviction without saying he has
been cleared could defame him. The qualified privilege that would
normally cover the court story would be compromised because the version
in the review would not be balanced, nor indeed, accurate.

2.
Convictions in court cases (ii)n That armed robber again… has a
re-trial been ordered? If so, mentioning details from the original
trial could risk prejudicing the new trial and could possibly breach a
Section 4 order.

3. Stories covered by qualified privilege That
report about the stormy council meeting in February… if you re-use any
of it, privilege may not apply. And if it does, the fact that you
re-published it could be seen as malicious, or might necessitate you
having to print another right of reply to balance it. Re-used court
copy will only be protected by qualified privilege, too, but will be
safe provided there is no malice on your part. Malice? At Christmas?
Perish the thought.

4. Photos What if circumstances have changed
since a photo was published the first time? That pic of the President
of the Chamber of Commerce standing outside his house… he might have
moved since then – and the house is now used as a brothel or drug den.
The re-used photo could defame him if it was not accurately captioned.

Then,
of course, there is the possibility that someone who consented to a
photo being taken and published six months ago may now claim it
breaches their privacy if it is being used in a different context.

5.
Identities Remember that story you ran about the hunt for a little boy
who had been abducted? It contained his name and photo as part of a
police appeal to trace him. Since then, he’s been found, and has made
complaints about a sexual offence. Re-using his name and photo in the
review, when referring to the original story, would be a serious
contempt of court.

The same could apply to anyone else whose
identity has since been restricted because they are a child or the
victim of a sexual offence. Ditto ‘tug of love’

stories. The
child the police were searching for may now be a ward of court, and
mentioning his identity could have serious consequences.

6.
Changed circumstances What about that photo of the little girl at the
school fete, or the smiling pensioner who has just celebrated their
100th birthday? What if they have since died?

It could cause distress if the original photo was reused in a way that suggested they were still alive.

Check the archive!

7.
Repeating a libel Stories and pics may have been subject to libel
actions during the year. If you re-publish them in the review, you
could trigger a fresh libel action.

8. Referring back to crime
stories That murder might have been a great story at the time – but
re-using aspects of it now, including photos or e-fits of suspects,
could be contempt of court if the trial is drawing near.

9.
Inquests Re-using inquest copy, or reports about deaths, could cause
distress to families, especially at Christmas, and could trigger a
complaint to the PCC about intruding into grief. Handle with care.

10.
Letters That letter might have provoked a storm when it was first
published in August, but re-using it now would breach the sender’s
copyright.

11. Copyright material You might have used extracts of
copyright work under Fair Dealing earlier in the year, because it
related to a current event. Re-use it in the review and it probably
won’t be current any more, and will breach someone’s copyright.

12.
PCC adjudications If someone complained to the PCC about a story or pic
and won their case – well, they won’t be hugely impressed if you
publish it again.

The Review of the Year, then, is not a job to be done under the influence… or under the mistletoe.

Probably best to delegate it to someone else and get off down the pub.

Cleland
Thom is legal adviser to the Manchester Evening News, Trader Media
Group, Greater Manchester Weekly Newspapers and The Local Radio
Company, and delivers law training to newspapers and radio stations all
over the UK.

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