Revised Defining Defamation Principles: Background paper

The protection of reputation – the esteem in which one is held by society - is an important social purpose. Defamation laws, while aiming to suppress or redress harms to reputation resulting from speech – whether spoken aloud, distributed in print, broadcast, or otherwise publicly communicated – will necessarily interfere with the right to freedom of expression. In some instances, this interference can be justified; in others, defamation laws can be used to silence legitimate speech.

In 2000, ARTICLE 19, in cooperation with international freedom of expression and media experts, published one of the first standard-setting documents in this area. Defining Defamation: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Reputation (“the Defamation Principles”) set out the appropriate balance between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect individual reputation. Since their adoption, the Defamation Principles have obtained significant recognition and international endorsement.

In the last fifteen years, however, there have been significant developments in legal, social and technological spheres that impact on how freedom of expression and reputation are balanced. While still a valid and important guiding document, ARTICLE 19 believes that the Defamation Principles need to be updated to properly reflect these developments.