Responding to a request for comment by the media
Receiving a press enquiry from a journalist/reporter and discovering that you are the subject of a potential story can be a terrifying experience, but it does not necessarily mean your life is about to come crashing down around you. How you initially choose to respond to a press enquiry can make all the difference.
I've been approached by a journalist, what do I do?
Journalists will typically approach the subject of a story for comment before going to press. This is known as 'fronting up'. The purpose is to give you an opportunity to put across your side of the story. If you ignore a request it is likely that the story will be run without your input - normally mentioning that you had been approached for comment. Journalists often put a tight deadline on response times to put the subject under pressure and/or because they are simply 'ticking a box' (a public interest defence to a defamation claim is more likely to succeed where a subject has been given the opportunity to comment).
It may be that you are the not the main subject of a story and/or that the journalist is simply following a line of enquiry. However, where you suspect defamatory or private information is likely to be published it is important that you act quickly and consider if, and, how you should respond. At this point, you should instruct specialist solicitors as a matter of urgency. If you engage our defamation solicitors, we will review any relevant material, take your instructions, discuss your potential options and advise you on the best course of action. This might include:-
- Our firm sending a letter to the publication/media company on your behalf warning them that any publication - or the publication of specific allegations - is likely to result in defamation (and/or privacy) proceedings.
- Our firm preparing a statement on your behalf.
- A combination of (1) and (2).
- Ignoring the journalist.
Should I speak to the journalist myself?
Ultimately this is your prerogative, but where you believe you are a 'target' we normally advise against it. Skilled journalists are good at building trust and rapport. This may make you feel at ease, understood or even that they are on your side. However, the journalist's job is not to act in your best interests, but rather to get you talking freely, gather information and to prepare a story.
If you have been contacted by a journalist by the telephone or in person then rather than getting into a discussion it often best to ask them to email you a list of questions. We can then respond on your behalf. In these circumstances, you have the benefit of expert advice and some time and control over the process.
Where a tight deadline is given, we can send a holding letter explaining that a substantive response will follow. In these circumstances, it would be very risky for the publication to go ahead and publish unless there is some inherent urgency to the story.
How can a pre-publication letter help?
In many instances, a good pre-publication letter will mean that no story is published. This is because it will put the journalist and the publication's legal team/editor on notice of the fact that there is exposure for a defamation or privacy claim if they go ahead and publish. Additionally or alternatively, information might be relayed that means the story (or the fact of your involvement in it) loses any news value. In other instances, a pre-publication letter can minimise and/or mitigate the harm caused by a subject and reduce the prospects of the story being a 'hatchet job'.
What about where publication is inevitable?
Where a journalist has done their job properly, has credible sources and a newsworthy story, it may be impossible for solicitors to prevent publication. In these circumstances, in addition to trying to soften the publication, we can assist in the preparation of a statement for you. Depending on the case, this may be brief or detailed. This allows you to try and retain some control and minimise any harm caused.
What if they publish the story anyway?
If a story is published then we will be able to assist you with asserting a defamation or privacy claim. The remedies we can seek on your behalf include: removal, an apology/clarification, damages/compensation, and an undertaking (promise) not to repeat. In matters that go to court we can seek damages and an injunction. In nearly all successful cases, a statement can be made in open court putting the record straight.
Where there has been pre-publication legal correspondence and important matters have been disregarded by the publisher this may mean that any public interest defence is less likely to succeed. It may also support a claim for aggravated damages.
Claims for defamation must normally be brought within 12 months of the publication. This ‘limitation period’ will only be disapplied by the Court in very exceptional circumstances. Therefore, you must act fast to secure vindication, and instruct solicitors as soon as possible.
Can I seek an injunction to prevent the press from running a story?
The Court is unable to grant an injunction prohibiting publication of an article on defamation grounds, where the publisher asserts it has a defence to a claim. This is known as the 'rule against prior restraint' (also often referred to by reference to a historic case: Bonnard v Perryman). The subject's remedy is to bring a defamation claim after the event.
The Court can grant an injunction prohibiting the publication of private or confidential information. This is because the damage caused by the disclosure of private information is normally irreversible (and thus damages are not a sufficient remedy). Where appropriate we will warn a publisher that such an injunction will be sought and/or seek one on a client's behalf. These injunctions are somewhat disparagingly referred to by the press as 'gagging orders' and are quite rare in practice (not least because of the expense of proceedings), but they are a powerful 'nuclear option' in certain cases. They will not be granted if the Court is satisfied there is an overriding public interest in matters being published
A journalist is harassing me, what can I do?
Where you (or your solicitors) have made it clear that you do not wish to make a comment or comment further, then responsible journalists should leave you alone. If they do not they may be liable for harassment (a civil tort and criminal offence). In these circumstances, we can assist by sending journalists and/or their editors cease and desist letters and, in extreme cases, issuing court proceedings and seeking injunctive relief.
I have been contacted by a journalist who is preparing a television programme or news item, is the position the same?
Yes, the position with broadcasters is the same. Programme-makers and journalists also front up stories and the above applies.
Why should I instruct Brett Wilson LLP?
In short, to ensure that you have the best team fighting for you and to maximise your prospects of success.
Over the years we have helped thousands of public figures, HNWIs, businesses and professionals protect their hard-earned reputations. Defamation law is notoriously complex and it is generally ill-advised to instruct non-specialist lawyers. Our work and client care is of the highest standard. All cases are run by a specialist defamation solicitor. Every matter has partner involvement. We are confident we can help you seek the best result.
When your position is asserted on Brett Wilson LLP's letterhead, you can be sure it will be taken seriously. We advance claims against the media every week and are well-respected within newspapers and broadcasters' legal departments. Where lines are
As well as being listed in the prestigious Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners directories as a leading firm in the fields of defamation, privacy and reputation management law, partners Iain Wilson, Max Campbell and Tom Double, together with solicitor Elisabeth Mason, are all individually recognised as leading individuals. Most importantly, we receive excellent feedback from our clients and contemporaries.
Legal proceedings can be stressful, time consuming and costly. Therefore at the outset of your case we will conduct a cost benefit analysis with you. We will talk you through this process. We offer honest and pragmatic advice to our clients. We will always consider alternative options, including asserting other causes of action, approaching intermediaries or PR work.
How do I instruct Brett Wilson LLP?
If you have received a press enquiry and would like legal advice, contact one of our specialist defamation solicitors please send us an email, complete our online enquiry form or call us on 020 7183 8950. If emailing or using the online form, please provide a short outline of your situation. Please include details of any deadline. If the matter is urgent we recommend that you call us.
Where you have been approached by the press, instructions are time-sensitive. It is thus very important, that you are in a position to provide us with full instructions and make a payment on account (a minimum payment of £2,500-3,500 will be required for new matters).