Media Law Lecture Notes (7): No Session

November 14, 2011

As the law lecture was canceled this week, I have decided to blog on a few law related subjects which are relevant to subjects we have covered, but have not been looked at in great detail: 

Divisions of the Law: 

There are two main types of law, criminal law and civil law.

Criminal Law deals with offenses that could harm the whole community, therefore being an offense against the sovereign. When a crown court case is listed as (for example the accused is called Smith) R v Smith, R stands for Regina (the Queen) or Rex (the King). 

Civil Law refers to disputes between individuals and organisations, for example financial matters, entitlements, redress of wrongs suffered, resolutions between couples etc. 

The Public Interest: 

If  the defence of public interest is being used to justify information being published it must be of high value to the public -In cases involving minors the public interest needs to be exceptional. 

It is in the public interest to warn people of a dangerous criminal or misleading  politician for example. 

Subterfuge can be justified with the public interest defense.  

The Press Complaints Commission states: Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest.


Subterfuge is where journalists obtain or publish material acquired by:
  • using hidden cameras
  • using clandestine listening devices
  • intercepting private or mobile telephone calls,
  • interception any form of messages or emails
  • unauthorised removal of documents or photographs
  • accessing digitally held private information without consent
Subterfuge can be justified only in the public interest, and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Freedom of Expression: 

Freedom of expression is the right to communicate ideas and information; without this freedom democratic life would be impossible. 

The UK has no written constitution, therefore meaning that its citizens are free to do whatever they wish as long as the law does not prohibit it. 

However, there is limitations to freedom of expression; laws such as defamation (libel, slander) try to keep freedom of expression fair. 

-Government censorship stopped in England in 1695.   

There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

Article 10 of the human rights act 1998 states 'everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority'.  

Restrictions on this right has to be justified, in the interest of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the prevention of disorder or a crime, protection of health, morals, the reputation and rights of others. 


Journalists must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. 

It must b avoided unless it is genuinely relevant to the story. 

Financial Journalism: Journalists must not use financial information they receive in advance of its general publication to make profit for themselves, and should not pass such information onto others.Journalists should not write about shares in which themselves, family members or friends hold a significance to. Neither can they sell or buy shares which they have written about recently or plan to write about. Common Law: 

Is the law of the land which is constantly being changed/updated by Acts of Parliament. 

(Acts of Parliament: Acts of Parliament are drafted and approved by politicians in the House of Commons and the house of Lords. The acts are referred to as Primary Legislation. Secondary Legalisation, also known as Statutory Instruments, enshrine broad principles of legislation.)

As judges applied law to cases before them, their decisions and outlines were recorded by lawyers, and is used as a guideline for other judges (but is variant depending upon the judge) -this process still continues today. 

The decision can be challenged and appealed to a higher court however; the decision made by the higher courts are therefore binding on all lower courts, and therefore shape future rulings (a hierarchy of the courts in England and Wales can be found here).  

Common law is supplement to equity.


In non legal usage, equity means fairness or impartiality. 

I law terms, the meaning refers to a system of doctrines and procedures which have developed over centuries of common law. 

The rules of equity gives a judge the choice to make rulings based on a particular individual case. 

The Human Rights Act 1998

Came into force on 2nd October 2000.

Prior to this UK law did recognise fundamental human rights as they have evolved over centuries. However, the general right of privacy (article 8) did not previously exist in UK Law; and some argue that freedom of expression was also insufficiently protected. 

Trespassers will NOT be prosecuted 

An interesting fact I read in Magazine Law, A Practical Guide, by Peter Mason and Derrick Smith (Winchester University library reference 343.0998 MAS) states: 

"property owners often put up noticed warning 'trespassers will be prosecuted', which is legal nonsense and unenforceable. Most trespasses are a civil law wrong (or tort) and prosecution is a criminal law procedure and the two are not interchangeable.


Ofcom: Office of Communication -has the power to fine a broadcasting organisation which breaches regulations. 

The BBC is subject to regulation by Ofcom but is self regulated by the BBC Trust

Ethical Code for BBc Journalists: BBC Editorial Guidelines 

The magazine and newspaper industry have created and fun a self-regulated body, the Press Complaints Commission. 

Two constitutional bulwarks protect freedom of expression in the UK: Jury Trial and the rule against prior restraint.  

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