Ruling creates new libel defence of ‘responsible journalism’

Ontario’s highest court has recognized “responsible journalism” as a defence to libel actions in a ruling that promises to set a precedent across the country. In a Nov. 13 ruling, Justice Robert J. Sharpe of the province’s Court of Appeal said Canadian libel law should no longer sacrifice freedom of expression in order to protect reputations.

Following the lead of courts in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, the court said if a media outlet “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 its facts wrong.”

“Debate on matters of public interest will often be heated and criticism will often carry a sting,” Sharpe added, “and yet open discussion is the lifeblood of our democracy.”

Read news reports on the ruling in Editor & Publisher at at
Read Justice Sharpe’s ruling.

In a press release, the Canadian Newspaper Association hails the ruling as an important precedent that creates a “fair balance” between freedom of expression and protecting the reputations of individuals.

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Ontario court upholds “responsible journalism” defence
Responsible journalism and the Ontario ruling