7

I am the editor of a small college magazine. In an article that was recently submitted to me, as part of the story, the author named two people who ragged him (harassed him). I have sufficient proof to believe this is true. It is also important for the cause he argues for in his article that he names the two people.

Now, I have noticed that publications generally do not name private individuals. Even if they know for sure that they have committed the crime. Why is this the case?

(I am aware of the different defamation laws for private and public figures, but why not name people you know for sure have committed a crime?)

Edit: The author wants to file a formal complaint, and attach it with the article, to show that he takes complete responsibility for the accusations.

  • If you know for sure that Person X has committed a crime, why not report it to the police? – F1Krazy Jul 13 '18 at 9:27
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    @F1Krazy It happened a long time ago. The author does not want to report it right now. He wants to name them so as to give an example to other people that raggers should be called out. – anon Jul 13 '18 at 9:30
  • This ofcourse might cause the institute to report them, which he considers a side effect of the main goal, incase that happens. – anon Jul 13 '18 at 9:31
  • It would depend really - do you have proof actual, publishable proof or just the authors story of two people that ragged him? – Thomo Jul 13 '18 at 10:52
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    Reminder to everyone: answer in answers, not in comments. Comments don't have the quality assurance mechanisms that answers do. – V2Blast Jul 13 '18 at 21:46
4

If a newspaper/magazine were to receive information relating about a crime committed by a member of the public and are considering publishing this information, then the section on Privacy in the BBC's Editorial Guidelines would seem to be relevant.

Selected excerpts are:

The BBC respects privacy and does not infringe it without good reason, wherever in the world it is operating. The Human Rights Act 1998 gives protection to the privacy of individuals, and private information about them, but balances that with a broadcaster's right to freedom of expression.

-

Behaviour: There is less entitlement to privacy where an individual's behaviour is criminal or seriously anti-social.

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Private behaviour, information, correspondence and conversation should not be brought into the public domain unless there is a public interest that outweighs the expectation of privacy. There is no single definition of public interest. It includes but is not confined to:

  • exposing or detecting crime

  • etc.

This seems to give grounds for publication of the material. That said, if the allegations of criminal behaviour are proved to be unfounded, then you could leave yourself or the magazine or the organisation (college) open to a charge of defamation. But you're already aware of this and so I won't elaborate.

Good luck.

18

Although you have the right to tell the truth, that is not defined by what you just know must be true. The truth must be verifiable. What proof do you have to publish, or to back up what you publish (like video)? The word of a victim that, conceivably, might be lying to you?

Professional news outlets, reporters and editors, are trained and consult lawyers to ensure they do not defame others.

Public Figures and Defamation: At least in the USA, 'public figures' including celebrities and politicians, have a higher bar to reach to prove defamation than a regular citizen does; and those public figures are the ones usually named by professional news outlets. Essentially the public figure must prove a statement is false, and must also prove their name was published with "reckless disregard for falsity", meaning the defamer knew or had evidence or had been told their publication was false, or should have known (could have easily found out, etc).

Private individuals (again USA, and the type of people you seem to want to out) that are defamed only need to prove that the defamer showed negligence in considering or confirming that a statement is true or false prior to publication, rather than the more stringent reckless disregard.

You can probably find your local laws on the Internet. I would consult your college's lawyer/attorney/counsel/solicitor before I published any names or other identifying information.

5

The editor of a small college magazine really, really ought to have legal counsel readily available. If the magazine has some official affiliation with the college, then the college's lawyers may be available for consultation. Otherwise, a relationship with a proper lawyer should be part of the magazine's budget.

You say you believe you can prove that certain events occurred. That's good. Expect to have to produce that proof in defence of a civil action. That's expensive. Magazines, large and small, are made and broken in such activities. You and the author will likely be named, personally, as respondents.

Further, the college itself may find itself named in any such suit (certainly so if the magazine has an official affiliation, but very likely so even if it doesn't). They will not be happy about this and may re-evaluate whether this magazine is worth keeping running, which may or may not be based on the objective defensibility of the statements. You may not feel now that the college "keeps the magazine running" but you may find they have lots of ways to not keep it running. So if you have any kind of advisor, or liaison, or board of directors, let them know what you're planning, and take their advice.

A small college magazine that doesn't have a big budget and which is not in the position to fund legal defences for itself and its staff might be very reasonable in formulating strict policy: we print nothing potentially defamatory. We're just not in that business.

3

Newspapers do tend to have a very cautious attitude towards defamation, in many cases tending towards a reflexive inclusion of terms such as "alleged", even when it's somewhat redundant (such as "alleged suspect"). However, there are significant issues. Not only is there the danger of lawsuits, but journalists should be in the business of reporting facts. If Person A told you that Person B harassed him, then that he claimed that is a fact. That Person B harassed Person A is a conclusion that you've made based on that claim. In this case, Person A is the one writing the article, but generally speaking, articles are second and even third hand accounts, and in that situation if you simply present the facts that you know, then not only does that insulate you from defamation claims, but it is also more informative.

A further issue is that "harassed" is a rather vague term. It has been used for everything from sending people death threats to posting something critical on one's own Facebook page. Thus, it's hard to tell from merely your characterization of this as "harassment" whether it's newsworthy.

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