Legal cases involving journalistic practice – like libel, defamation and protection of sources – can often be like nasty divorces. They drag on and on, and legal costs soar.
Whichever side you’re on, a qualified expert witness can help break the logjam in your favour.
At a time when the Internet can spread the 'sting' of libel far and wide, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided "responsible communication" is a factor in determining what constitutes defamation.
This does two things: It expands the defences available to media outlets accused of libel; but it also provides plaintiffs with new yardsticks by which to measure whether or not media "acted responsibly" on matters of public interest.
Courts will often require independent evidence about whether or not media organizations acted according to the standards of responsible communication.
For lawyers representing the media, such testimony can often help justify aggressive investigative reporting techniques and overcome any judicial perception that media are self-serving and more interested in readers and profits than public service.
For lawyers representing plaintiffs, it can often hasten an out-of-court settlement in your client's favour, or at least acquaint the court with commonly recognized standards of journalistic conduct, not just those that may be provided and interpreted by the media outlet in question.
- My expert opinion statements over the past 15 years have an impressive record of helping my clients.
- My qualifications as a journalism expert have been accepted by courts in Ontario and British Columbia.
- I taught journalism for 23 years at Ryerson University and was a top editor at Canada's largest newspaper.
- I helped review and rewrite the Canadian newspaper industry’s Statement of Principles.
- My book Yesterday’s News took a critical look at journalistic practice. It was on the Globe and Mail’s list of the 100 most notable books of 1998.
Statement of personal ethics
As an expert witness, I represent both media organizations and plaintiffs against the media because my interest is solely to promote responsible, accurate journalism. I take on cases that I think clarify issues that further that goal. Full disclosure means that clients are told in advance if I have previously represented the other side to any given dispute.
Here is a media article featuring me and discussing the pros and cons of journalism expert witnesses.
Here is my blog pointing out four myths of using experts in defamation cases