Qualified and Absolute Privilege

Quick recap on confidentiality 
Breach of confidence is where confidential information has been leaked.
Papers have leaked information in the past, on the duty that it is significantly in the publics interest. But this is still breaking the law.
Recent story: Edward Snowdon

Qualified Privilege 
Privilege is about what we can say outside of court. These include our rights to report from a public meeting, local councils, committees, tribunals etc. These meetings provide us with stories as long as their are written in line to our rules of 'fair accurate and fast' Therefore having this qualified privilege and understanding how we can report using it is crucial to know as a journalist. 

We can report the facts from the meetings that would be in the public interest. Eg. A routine story on the BBC news website today (26 Feb) Credit Suisse allegedly helping wealthy US customers conceal their swiss bank accounts to avoid paying billions of dollars in American taxes. Determined by circumstance, place and setting. The headline was along the lines of 'Credit Suisse addicted US tax evaders' this is a defamatory statement. We can print this because of qualified privilege.

Other occasions where qualified privilege arises would be:
In an annual general meeting (share holders) the share holders may defame the company but as a journalist we have qualified privilege to report this.

After the meeting ends anything said can not be reported as you have no protection.
As long as reports are: fair, accurate, and fast.

Privilege is subject to explanation and contradiction, public meetings, local councils, tribunals, commissions, inquiries, company documents/extracts, general meetings of UK companies. Associations have different status.

Privilege part 1 (don't worry about)
Privilege Part 2 areas are much more interesting. Public meetings, local councils and committees, tribunals, inquiries.

Absolute privilege- This is our other type of privilege which allows us to report from courts and legal proceedings. The report must be fair, accurate and fast (contemporaneous) 


  • Pressers are public meetings (Lords 2000)
  • Written handouts also covered
  • Consider risks of live broadcasting. Will their be wild allegations made at this public interest that we are about to broadcast live? For example the health sphere is one that should raise alarms especially patient meetings about the NHS. Alleged misconduct of injustice- allegations about the police may be made. You wouldn't want this on live TV. Even though you have protection you wouldn't be allowed to run defamatory statements without explanation. You can delay live TV so the broadcaster can hear the statements being made first. 

Your report must be: 

  • Fair 
  • Accurate
  • Fast
  • In the public interest
  • Without malice 

Inquests can provide journalist with strong stories, they particularly work well for print journalism. 
The media rules that an inquest is protected by absolute privilege, covered by contempt of court art. 
Types of verdicts:

  • Narrative
  • Short form- natural causes , misadventure, accidental death, dependence on drugs. Unlawful killing, or an open verdict.

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