Fact-checkers from all over the world are harassed and threatened for the work they do. A response to this situation has long been needed.
Last week, the Fact-checkers Legal Support Initiative (FLSI) — a collaboration established by the International Fact-Checking Network, the Media Legal Defence Initiative and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) — published the first four legal guides to help fact-checkers face these challenges.
After a survey conducted in 2018, FLSI concluded that fact-checkers in the United States, the Philippines, Brazil and Italy were facing increasing legal risks. For this reason, the first four guides — available for download in English, Portuguese and Italian — focus on those countries and provide an overview of relevant laws and policies for each.
“Our primary goal was to provide a summary of the legal issues that affect fact-checkers,” said RCFP staff attorney Sarah Matthews. “But we didn’t want to just help them lower the risk around their work but also help them understand how they can access public data and request court records, for example. We wanted to help them improve their ability to do their work”.
The legal guides are the third component of a bigger project FLSI has been doing to help fact-checkers face legal threats and other non-legal challenges. The first component is the Fact-Checkers Legal Fund, which was announced in January and grants fact-checkers access to legal support and resources. The second is a global index of pro bono lawyers.
The U.S. guide offers content about libel, privacy and tips about newsgathering. In the chapter dedicated to harassment, FSLI recognizes “journalists have reported an increase in threats of physical violence and online harassment” and suggests fact-checkers take seriously threats of physical harm. They should be reported to an editor and to law enforcement promptly. “Ideally, your editor can monitor, assess, and report these threats for you and relieve some of the mental strain associated with them,” the guide states.
The Brazilian guide (also available in English) offers information on honor rights, privacy rights and image rights, besides copyrights. It summarizes the legal regime in Brazil relating to laws and obligations that are potentially relevant to fact-checkers.
The Philippino guide dives into defamation, privacy, access to government records and courts. It also includes a chapter about journalistic source. The guide explains the Sotto Law recognizes the protection of journalists’ sources is necessary for “the mission of the press to check and balance and expose wrongdoing” but it also fixes a limit to it: “the security of the State”. The same law, however, does not provide any guidance on what constitutes “security of the State”.
The Italian guide (also available in English) is the shortest one. In 17 pages, it covers the legal regime in Italy regarding defamation, privacy rights, the right to information, and copyright. In the chapter dedicated to privacy, there is an alert: “In some cases, courts have treated data protection as part of the right to privacy. In others, they have approached data protection and privacy as two distinct concepts.” Fact-checkers must take that into consideration.
The American guide was written by attorneys with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and attorneys at WilmerHale, a U.S.-based law firm that has offices across the globe. The other guides come from Steven Finizio, an international arbitration lawyer from The WilmerHale Arbitration Group.
The IFCN strongly recommends its members download them and plan a staff discussion around each one of the topics.
Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa, in Brazil. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.