Media law is one of the most complex and fastest growing areas of the law. Until fairly recently, it was not universally considered a discrete subject of study, and it was certainly not included in the syllabi of journalism or other media-related courses. The reason for this neglect was largely attitudinal: any legal problem which presented itself to a working journalist was seen as falling with the province of the professional lawyer. The bigger media outfits have always had an in-house legal adviser, and the smaller ones usually referred cases to an outside lawyer.
But a combination of factors made that arrangement less than satisfactory over the years. These included: rising litigiousness in society; runaway growth in statutory and other regulatory activity; increasing complexity of the law; and an intensification of competitive pressures within the media which has led to, and in many cases actively encouraged, journalistic risk-taking on a much wider scale than had been seen in the past.
Consequently, the awareness of a need for the working journalist – and other media practitioners – to gain at least a rudimentary knowledge of the law affecting their trade (if it can be called that) began to grow. The idea of “media law” as an integral part of journalism courses or vocational training programmes soon gained currency.
This branch of the law is, in fact, a slightly artificial construct: “media law” essentially consists of principles, concepts and precedents from a number of traditionally well-established areas of the law such as constitutional law, criminal law, and contract law. As one leading expert in this field recently noted, “For an in-depth study of all aspects of media law, the practitioner would probably require at least half-a-dozen weighty textbooks.”
This handbook does not aspire to deal with the subject exhaustively. On the contrary, it is intended simply as a first port of call for any media practitioner who wants an overview of the basic rules on such matters as defamation, contempt of court, copyright, official secrecy, individual privacy, and hate speech in the Asia-Pacific region. One of the challenges of compiling a work of even such limited scope as this is that there is a huge diversity of legal systems, principles and rules within this region, which makes it impossible to offer definitive and detailed guidance on the subject. This book should not, therefore, be treated under any circumstances as a substitute for professional legal advice.
It is seldom realised that sometimes all that is required for a journalist to avoid a legal pitfall is to make minor changes to his or her copy. For example, a change in nuance can often turn a potentially defamatory sentence to something that is legally innocuous. With this in mind, I have tried to keep the treatment of the various issues as practical as possible, although for the benefit of the more curious – or the more legally minded – I have provided relevant references to case law or other sources.
I would like to congratulate the Asia Pacific Institute of Broadcasting Development (AIBD) and its dynamic Director of many years, Dr Javad Mottaghi, for initiating this project and to thank this organisation for reposing faith in my ability to undertake the task of bringing it to fruition. Javad and his colleagues, including Mrs Manil Cooray (who co-ordinated the project) were always a source of great support and encouragement.
I hope that the handbook will prove useful to media practitioners throughout the Asia-Pacific region and possibly further afield.
– Dr Venkat Iyer