Libel and Defamation

The law of defamation is governed by the Defamation Acts 1952 and 1996, which enable people to take action if untrue or harmful statements are made about them. A person can be sued for damages, and in some cases prosecuted, if he or she conveys defamatory matter to anyone concerning a third person, either in permanent form including broadcasting (libel) or in speech (slander). In Scotland, the defamatory information need be disclosed only to the person defamed for it to be actionable.

A defamatory statement is one with a tendency to injure the reputation of another person (or organisation, company or business). The most usual defences to an action for defamation are that the statements are true or are fair comment on a matter of public interest.

You cannot defame a person who has died.

Anyone who considers that defamatory remarks have been made about him or her during an interview can, if the defamatory material is made available to anyone, sue:

  • the interviewee;
  • the interviewer; and/or
  • an institution which houses the recording of the interview.

Interviewers and custodians should take efforts to identify potentially defamatory statements made in interviews. Where a statement is believed to be untrue and damaging to a third party, the portion of the interview and/or transcript containing the statement should not be made available to researchers, and should certainly not be published, until the subject of the statement is dead. Where the truth or harmfulness of statements is less clear, the risks and benefits of making that portion of an interview available should be assessed on a case by case basis.

Normally if the subject of statements in an interview complains that they are defamatory, these statements should be promptly removed from public access and reviewed. They should be kept closed until the subject has died.

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