Manual on European Defamation Law

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The Media Legal Defence Initiative and the International Press Institute have published a powerful new tool for defending the European media’s right to report on matters of public interest.

A comprehensive reference and training manual for lawyers and journalists on European legal standards related to freedom of expression and the protection of reputation, “Freedom of Expression, Media Law and Defamation,” summarises key principles of European jurisprudence on defamation. It is intended to support lawyers representing media practitioners who have been sued or threatened with defamation, while also helping journalists to understand their rights under international and European human rights law.

The manual is accompanied by a set of training materials to allow qualified trainers to prepare and carry out workshops on defamation law and freedom of expression in European countries. Such workshops, four of which IPI and MLDI have already carried out, provide an opportunity for participants to actively practice working through litigation strategies using case studies and moot court scenarios.

Chapters covered by the manual and training materials include:

  • Underlying sources and principles of freedom of expression
  • A conceptual introduction to defamation (including history, the right to reputation in law and types of responses to defamatory content)
  • Types of defamatory material (including opinions vs. facts, humour and statements of others)
  • Defamation and public debate (including protection of political speech, privacy of public figures, the “public watchdog” function and religious defamation)
  • Defamation cases in court (including defences to defamation suits, burdens of proof, anonymous sources, remedies and penalties, and application of international human rights law)
  • Defamation case law of the European Court of Human Rights

In late 2014 and early 2015, IPI and MLDI held an initial series of workshops based on a draft version of the manual in Macedonia, Croatia, Spain and Portugal. This series allowed for the manual to be tested in practice and improved following feedback from participants and trainers. Each workshop was led by a leading legal expert and participants included lawyers, journalists and representatives of civil society. In addition to the material covered by the manual, the workshops also included a session on respective national defamation law as well as an editorial training session that provided journalists with practical reporting tips for balancing respect for reputation with the public’s right to know.

The manual and accompanying training materials are currently available for download in five languages: English, Croatian,Macedonian, Portuguese and Spanish. Further languages will be forthcoming. 

The manual and materials were commissioned from Dr. Richard Carver of Oxford Brookes University.