Tips for journalists on how to avoid getting sued during the general election campaign

The first bout of Dave v Ed on TV last week signaled the unofficial start of the general election campaign. And journalists can look forward to another five weeks of mud-slinging, claim and counter-claim.

But it's worth remembering that there is no libel amnesty during the election campaign.

In fact, the media can face a greater threat of legal action, because candidates may be desperate to avoid bad publicity. And a writ could be an effective way of keeping a story out of print or of scoring some political points.

So beware publishing any statement that "causes, or is likely to cause, serious harm to someone's reputation".

An election campaign creates some unique libel risks. Here are some other points to remember, taken from my new Ebook, the Election Legal Guide for Journalists.

Avoid making statements such as: "… this Conservative politician would be better off in the British National Party". This could imply deceit and insincerity on his part.

Beware publishing quotes or statements that speculate about a candidate's motives, for example: "He's only in it for the power." Motives are almost impossible to prove.

Avoid publishing emotive words such as fascist or racist when describing candidates. If you were sued over them you would have to prove they were substantially true.

Check your facts. A Labour candidate may claim his Tory rival "has voted against abortion in every Parliamentary vote since 1985". But you could be sued if he was wrong.

The election campaign presents many other legal issues, too. Can you tweet from an election count without breaching secrecy? Will Freedom of Information Act requests on election issues be dealt with more quickly? What's the copyright position with candidates' election leaflets? How do you deal with 'jobsworths' at polling stations and election counts?

My ebook covers all these issues, and more.You can buy your copy of the Election Legal Guide for Journalists for £4.95 here
 

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