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Defamation by accident – dangers of remote meetings

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Posted by Daniel Jennings on 28 April 2020

Daniel Jennings Partner

Given the number of problems facing both businesses and individuals at the moment, the concern that they might defame another individual or business by mistake is probably not near the top of the list.  However, this week a leading Welsh politician has shown that everyone needs to be aware of how easily a private comment can become public knowledge.

Vaughan Gething learnt about the risks of video conferencing through bitter experience and a loose tongue after he was heard swearing about one of his colleagues during a virtual session of the Welsh Assembly.

It appears that the Minister forgot to mute his microphone after delivering his address and could be heard in the clearest and strongest terms swearing about and decrying Labour Assembly Member Jenny Rathbone.  Despite the efforts of the Speaker inviting him to turn his microphone off, his rant was broadcast and made national news.

Many assembly members on the call can be seen to have reacted with shock and laughter. However, afterwards the opposition party called for the Minister to resign. Even allowing for political opportunism the dangers of inadvertently letting rip without checking your audience first are self-evident.

It doesn’t take much imagination to consider how unfavourable comments about a commercial rival or other individual could accidently be broadcast to the world at large leaving an individual or company open to the threat of litigation. What might be potentially even more troublesome could be the reputational damage to their own business.  

While the threshold of serious harm would need to be met and how the business would demonstrate that in the current climate remains unclear, the risks are obvious.

It is critical that all businesses and individuals take care when writing and / or speaking – being aware of your audience and the message you are communicating is essential - as is good microphone control.  By seeking pre-publication advice before they publish, businesses can minimize their risk; but accidents will still happen and if a senior politician can inadvertently broadcast a foul-mouthed rant about one of his rivals, anyone can.

About the author

Daniel advises clients on all aspects of commercial litigation and dispute resolution.

Daniel Jennings

Daniel advises clients on all aspects of commercial litigation and dispute resolution.

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