Forget media training â€“ get some legal training
by Winifred Okocha 26th February 2013
Itâ€™s been six months since I began my PR career here at Ruder Finn. Iâ€™ve been a nursery attendee, a school pupil and university student, but my new incarnation is the life of a â€˜communications professionalâ€™. Although Iâ€™m quite used to my daily activities, I donâ€™t expect to get too comfortable seeing as no day is the same!
When youâ€™re the new girl in a workplace â€“ especially in a first job â€“ you wonder what you can bring to the table. As a trained journalist, I thought that this might be a good place to start, for me to bring a journalistic way of thinking; an inquiring mind, a nose for a story and a penchant for juicy media law cases. My last point is proving to be a pertinent one, with the Oscar Pistorius case in South Africa and the Lord McAlpine drama making Twitter a minefield for media law catastrophes.
*Sidenote South Africa does not do trial by jury, contempt in this case would be irrelevant*
The Attorney General for the UK, Dominic Grieve continues to flex his muscles with regards to this â€“ announcing today that contempt proceedings will begin against individuals purported to have posted pictures of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables on Twitter.
Whether itâ€™s tweets that come scarily close to defamation, the breaking of anonymity orders or downright violations of contempt of court, the UK justice system is failing to catch up with new media, and the newspaper industry is yet to find a social media proof answer to libel. With the world becoming more connected, is it time to start taking the teaching of media law more seriously?
I think so. If you went outside this office, onto the Strand, and asked any number of people whether they knew it was illegal to name the alleged victim of a sexual assault, most of them would probably say no. Ask them if they knew the difference between libel and slander, the number would probably still be quite low.
Itâ€™s important to train people in the basics of law and that seems to be lacking â€“ splicing it with sex education and calling it ‘citizenship’ or ‘PSHE’ just doesn’t cut it. The UK may not have a written constitution, but we do have rights and responsibilities. Itâ€™s important to instil this into our youngsters and to remind them to use social media sensibly. After all, once you tweet, itâ€™s permanent. This does not only apply to children â€“ it extends to adults too. I would argue that knowledge of media law is just as important as media training for PR practitioners and clients. You would not want your employer typing your name into a search engine and seeing libellous tweets next to your twitter handle now would you?