FAIR and the law
Doing investigative journalism is a sure fire way of getting into trouble. From powerful advertisers’ and political VIP’s telephoning the editor to less polished approaches: digging for truths doesn’t make one many friends amongst the powers-that-be. The threat most publishing houses fear most is the lawsuit for damages by a powerful individual or institution.
The more power, and therefore the more legal muscle, such an aggrieved party has, the more money your story may cost your publisher. This is often the case even when your story is sound and fact-checked. The very act of asking for a story subjects’ comment can lead to legal repercussions even before a story is published.
Bannings, injunctions and delays, granted by courts to individuals who are rich and powerful enough to keep another party in court indefinitely or until they get their way, have threatened to bankrupt many publishers, and have in fact succeeded in bankrupting some. It will therefore often be your editor who spikes your story in advance, even before a lawsuit materializes.
FAIR supports professional investigative journalism (as opposed to gratuitous gossip; if you wrote an unsubstantiated story, don’t bank on us to take up your struggle!) and will try its best to channel colleagues and editors who are faced with vexatious litigation through to the relevant funds.
If you followed all the good journalism rules and still find legal muscle in your way, write to email@example.com for advice and an introduction to support organisations.
- Reporters sans Frontières solidarity fund: RSF sends lawyers to the aid of imprisoned journalists. http://www.rsf.org
- World Press Freedom Committee Against Censorship: The WPFC allocates grants to news media and journalists facing criminal prosecution world wide. http://www.wpfc.org/FundAgainstCensorship.html
- The Doha Centre helps reporters who face pressure by offering legal assistance and sometimes material assistance for damages (eg. when the police smashes your laptop). http://www.dc4mf.org
- Reporters Respond does the same. Their website is in Dutch but they do understand English. http://www.nvj.nl/persvrijheid/reporters-respond/