Sammy Darko writes: Can journalists publish information which has been posted on social media? YES
Can journalists publish information which has been posted on social media? YES
Are there limits to what can be published? YES.
This article has arisen out of a Facebook disagreement between editors at THEGHANAREPORT.COM and one good doctor and writer, Teddy Totimeh, Neurosurgeon at Ridge Hosptial.
The facts are simple: Dr. Totimeh published an article extensively on Ghana’s preparedness to fight COVID-19 a day after the partial lockdown, on his Facebook wall. The online news outlet republished the doctor’s article in full on their portal. They gave the story a headline.
The news portal argues that the headline was equally lifted from the article without editing. The doctor is not happy. He says the publication of the article on the portal has created issues for him and that the portal failed to get permission from him in republishing the said article. He also says that the headline picked appears misleading as it did not capture the essence of what he was trying to tell Ghanaians although the words in the headline are all his exact words.
This sparked a chain of comments under the doctor’s post, lawyers, photographers, journalists, doctors etc have joined in what I call the BIG debate.
I know both the editors and the doctor. The doctor was helpful in my days at Joy FM when I did a documentary on medical negligence. He spoke about the unprofessionalism of some of his colleagues.
So I am conflicted. But as an academic and a lawyer, whose research interest is in public interest journalism and media law, I find this subject intriguing and will share my opinion and some research I have gathered on this.
I will first say, this development is even good. It will help clear the space on publication on social media. It is not just Facebook; social media has made almost all of us journalists — “citizen journalist” is what the textbooks call us.
So now you can be sued or you can sue someone for publishing about you on social media, which you deem defamatory (Cyber Libel). A Swiss court has ruled that just by clicking the like button on another wall, you make the defamatory words your own
You can sue for copyright infringement if someone uses your material for commercial gain without asking permission, crediting you or even paying for your intellectual property. Now the Courts have even given its blessings that you can serve a party on social media under certain circumstances.
There is no need to re-invent the wheel. This matter has been hotly debated in the UK in the past forcing the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO) in the UK (Independent regulator for the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK), to dig into the matter with experts and came through with these findings. I am reproducing a portion of it here:
“People use social media regularly to share pictures and information about what is happening in their lives. Usually, you can choose how you share this information and who can view it by changing options in your privacy settings. When you do not limit your privacy settings, the information on your profile is available to any member of the public who can see it, including journalists. This means that when you put information onto social media websites without privacy settings in place, you have put this information into the public domain.
“Newspapers and magazines can publish information about you which is in the public domain because you have posted it on your profile or another person’s profile. However, there are limits to what journalists can publish.
“Even if you have shared information in private groups or private pages, journalists may be allowed to publish this. This may depend on how many people have access to the private group or page and/or whether you have made similar posts publicly. There may be other legitimate reasons why journalists are allowed to publish this kind of information, this would depend on the individual circumstances.
“It is common for journalists to take a picture of comments or pictures posted on social media, called a screenshot. This means that even if you delete the comment or picture, it can still be published as a screenshot. A newspaper or magazine would not automatically have to remove screenshots of posts if you choose to delete them.
“Unless there is a public interest, journalists should generally not publish information which:
“Is protected by privacy settings and is not in the public domain is private information about a person, such as medical information.
“Is about a child’s welfare or time at school (see section: Are there any special protections for children?).
“Might intrude into someone’s grief or shock.
“If you have posted several photos or comments publicly, then journalists would normally also be allowed to print privately shared posts which are similar to these.
“Occasionally, people who are not journalists name the victims of sexual offences in court cases on social media websites. This is illegal. Even if victims are named by members of the public.
“On social media, journalists are never allowed to publish the name or any information which might identify a victim. The only exception to this is if the victim chooses to waive their anonymity.”
Now, this is the point: the journalist is not required by law or ethics to contact you to seek permission to publish what you have said or published publicly. It’s like saying after delivering a speech, a journalist should get back to you and ask permission to publish what you said in the open.
The only reason a journalist may contact you is if, the journalist WANTS to seek clarification or get further comments or details. This is the fact I think many of us need to appreciate.
Now, where you have issues with the treatment of the story, you can raise concerns with the media house. For instance, if they adding or subtracted from your publication, if they misrepresented your publication, if you feel, know and reasonably believe the publication does not represent what you wanted to say.
Both law and ethics grant you the person, the right of rejoinder. The media house is obligated to publish the rejoinder-this is a constitutional requirement. If they fail to do that, you can take legal action or go to the National Media Commission to seek redress. I think these remedies are legal and ethical to seek in such a situation. I think you chose to go public-which in itself is a remedy.
As for copyright, it does not come in at all. It would if they had used a picture you took and added and they used the same picture without crediting you or seeking your permission. Even here the issue has been made, that once you posted the picture publicly, people are free to use it under the copyright principle of fair use, albeit they need to credit you.
However, if it’s for commercial purpose like a media house-then they need to ask permission 1 and 2, they need your consent or they have to pay to use. When I worked with the BBC, we paid several people who took pictures and posted on Facebook that we had to use. We first called for permission to use and two paid them and three still credited them.
I hope this helps.
Editor’s Note: The article was published in full. Part of it was not lifted and published out of context as the writer suggested in his Facebook post. Besides, the headline was taken from an emphatic statement the writer made in the conclusion of his article. The headline was, “We have lost the battle to contain coronavirus – Ridge Doctor writes”
And this was taken from this concluding paragraph from the writer’s article:
“We have lost the battle to contain this virus. It is now only a matter of time, and numbers. The curve is growing, it will peak, then flatten before the virus blows over. And only discipline and community will tide us over. If we stay indoors and take mobility away from the virus, and keep it from infecting even more people outside, maybe we begin to win. Maybe we free the health workers to do the best they can.
“Maybe we will protect ourselves from losses we cannot recover from.”