When a court of law heard a case in which a woman was suing a major media outlet for damages due to their reporting on her personal life, the ruling judge had strong words for the implications the incident could have on innocent third parties.
In his ruling the judge wrote: “I believe that the intrusion to freedom of expression here, especially to innocent third parties, is what is referred to in public law as chilling effects.” Unfortunately, he did not elaborate on who he meant by “innocent third parties.”
The case revolved around a woman, who we will call Mary, who had filed suit against the media outlet for damages done to her reputation. The media company had reported on her personal life, claiming she was in an unhappy marriage and outlining her divorce-related legal issues. Mary argued that her rights to privacy had been breached and that the publication of details of her personal life had caused her harm.
The ruling judge in the case declared the media company guilty of trespass to Mary’s personal privacy. However, his concerns extended beyond Mary herself.
The judge in the case raised the issue of “chilling effects” and the harm it can do to innocent third parties. Though the judge noted that the media company’s intrusion to freedom of expression was intrusive to Mary, he was particularly concerned with how the media company’s reporting might impact those not directly involved in the case.
By “chilling effects,” the judge was referring to the idea that when the media industry engages in publishing a story they feel bombards those who are innocent and may lead to a type of self-censorship amongst media outlets to avoid the possibility of legal repercussions. This could create an atmosphere of fear amongst media outlets, who may be hesitant to report on certain stories in fear of potential legal repercussions.
Unfortunately, the judge did not define the term “innocent third parties,” leaving the door open for further interpretation. Whether the judge intended to refer to Mary’s family, friends, neighbours, or other sources, is unclear. It remains unknown if the judge was suggesting potential harm to those who might be connected to Mary or to those who may have had their own stories impacted by the decision of the media outlet.
Ultimately, this case serves as an important reminder of the implications of media outlets failing to adhere to the ethical standards of journalism set out and should serve as a cautionary tale for all media outlets. It serves as a reminder that when reporting on stories involving people’s personal lives, media outlets should be aware of potential repercussions and take careful consideration of the potential harm that may come to those not involved in the news stories.