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Media Law Attorneys

Our media law attorneys provide advisory services to various media practitioners such as journalists, advertising agencies, public relations firms, broadcasters and production companies.

Media Law For Journalists and other media practitioners:

Our Media Law Attorneys advise journalists and the media practitioners in matters regarding:

  • Defamation
  • Freedom of speech
  • Intellectual property

Matters regarding regulatory bodies such as:

  • The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
  • The Press Council
  • Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA)
  • The Films and Publications Board

Media Law for Corporate:

We provide advisory services for corporates including the drafting of social media policies for companies and other organizations as well as reputation and brand management services for all aspects of an organization’s public presence, be it on-line or otherwise.

Media Law for Private Individuals:

Media Law Attorneys provide advisory and litigation services regarding reputation management, defamation cases, invasion of privacy and any other matter regarding the media and private individuals.

FAQ About Media Law

How is defamation defined in South African law?

Defamation is defined as the unlawful and intentional publication of defamatory matter concerning another person or group of persons which causes harm to the reputation of that person or group of persons.

In order to understand this definition in the legal context, one needs to examine each part of the definition more closely.

Publication

Firstly, one needs to examine what actions would be classified as publication for the purpose of defamation law in South Africa.

The most obvious forms of publication are publication of matter in media. A newspaper or magazine article are good examples of this type of publication. More importantly in the modern context is publication by means of social media posts. Many people wrongly assume that matter which is published in ‘private’ or ‘closed’ social media groups will not constitute publication in the context of defamation. This simply is not true. All that is required in terms of publication in the context of defamation law is that the matter comes to the attention of a person other than the person being defamed.

Social media is often used to publish defamatory matter. What is important to realise is that one need not be the author of the defamatory material in order to be liable for defamation. A person who shares a defamatory post on social media is regarded as having published the defamatory material regardless of whether they are the author of the defamatory material.

 What is considered defamatory matter?

When a court is tasked with determining whether material is defamatory, there are numerous considerations that the court will have to deal with.

Firstly, the court will have to determine what meaning the ‘average person’ would ascribe to the material. The courts use a legal construct to make this determination and consider factors such as the context within which the statements were made among other factors.

Secondly, the courts will have to determine whether the reader of the material would regard the complainant in a less favourable light after having read the material. As an example, does the reader of the material consider the complainant to be immoral or unethical after having read the material?

 If the defamed person is not named, can they be defamed?

If a person is named in the material, then there is obviously no difficulty in determining that the defamatory material refers to them. However, if a person is not named, they may still sue for defamation if the person is capable of being identified by means of the material. By way of example, if the material states that ‘the captain of XYZ football team has been taking bribes’ then the captain of XYZ football team would be easily identifiable despite not having been specifically named in the material.

Is a closed social media group such as a ‘WhatsApp group’ considered private?

Although there are many aspects to this question, the short answer is that there is really no such thing as a ‘closed’ or ‘private’ social media platform. The very nature of social media is that it allows ideas and comments to be shared freely.

A useful analogy would be to think of your social media posts as though they were being published in a newspaper or broadcast on television or radio with your name attached to the post. It can easily be argued that social media is an even more powerful form of publication than the more traditional forms of media mentioned above. Your social post can be shared around the world in an instant and it is therefore important that you carefully consider the implications of what you are posting. There are many instances where social media posts have resulted in life changing or career ending consequences for the person concerned.

In summary, one cannot expect any social media platform to be considered ‘private’ and one’s social media posts should be managed with this in mind. Once you have posted something on social media, you are no longer in control of that content and is practically impossible to erase.

Schedule a consultation with our Media Law Attorneys.