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Media's Right To Publish In Public Interest Cases

In defamation case, Ontario Appeals Court affirms media's right to publish in public interest

Source: Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) have hailed the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision affirming the news media's right to publish information in the public's interest as a significant victory for freedom of expression.

"The decision will decrease the chilling effect of potential libel suits on reporters and editors," CJFE President Arnold Amber said. "This changes the whole ballgame. Editors and reporters will now have more freedom to go after stories of public interest that they were frightened to touch before," Amber added.

In a unanimous decision on 13 November 2007, a three-judge panel said carrying out responsible public-interest journalism should be a defence against libel and slander suits for the news media. The decision was based on a test case involving Ontario police officer Danno Cusson, who had sued The Ottawa Citizen for defamation after they published an article in 2001, which suggested he had acted improperly.

Judge Robert Sharpe, who wrote the decision on behalf of Madam Justice Karen Weiler and Mr. Justice Robert Blair, stated that "where a media defendant can show that it acted in accordance with the standards of responsible journalism in publishing a story that the public was entitled to hear, it has a defence even if it got some of the facts wrong."

Halifax-based journalism professor and CJFE board member Kelly Toughill said she hopes the Ontario decision will be followed in every jurisdiction across Canada. "This is a powerful decision that should lead to better public policy journalism across the country."

CJFE believes that this shift, which puts greater priority on freer and more open discussions in the media, and backs off from the protections of reputations of those in power, will benefit all Canadians. The ruling brings the Canadian media in line with similar approaches followed in most major English-speaking countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world.


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