The Hillsborough Disaster

Topics: Defamation, Football hooliganism, Hooliganism Pages: 13 (3606 words) Published: May 3, 2013



Critically discuss the role of defamation law as guardian of the truth, focussing on the inaccurate reporting, which led to The Sun newspaper publishing a front-page article, headlined “The Truth‟ on 19th April 1989.

Defamation law safeguards an individual’s rights against a defamatory statement that cause public contempt, hatred, or ridicule[1]. In Britain, the law of defamation is divided into two distinct sections; slander and libel. Slander is defamation in the transient form while libel is found in permanent from such as newspaper articles, online articles, or pictures. The law does not recognise the deceased as claimant even when represented by their relatives[2]. Defamatory law can be found in almost all jurisdictions in the world. the most importantly, most defamation laws in the world borrows heavily form English defamation laws. The intention of these laws is to seek a fair and just balance between the freedom of speech and protection of individual privacy and reputation.

Defamation law has been most pronounced in the British media industry. While it has influences the media both in a positive and negative ways, journalists are now more cautious about what they write. On the other hand, celebrities and other public personalities are now very concerned of what is being written about them. For Instance, Geoldof Peaches sued the Daily Star tabloid for damages after the paper alleged that she practiced prostitution at night. Geldoff complained to Press Complain Commission about the allegations that had a potential of damaging her colourful career. The Daily Star publishers on their part agreed that their story on Geldof lacked accuracy and was damaging to her reputation[3].

Defamatory cases by media have often led to massive outcry. Immediately after the Hillsborough Disaster, the Sun sensationally published a story with its infamous headline ‘‘The Truth’’. This story angered many people in England and especially Liverpool fans given that it appeared four days after the disaster[4]. Nevertheless, what irked most people is the refusal by The Sun to offer an apology even after it emerged that its story was inaccurate. As a sign of protest, residents of Merseyside have boycotted the paper for the 23 years. The Sun story alleged that the some fans had tried to steal from the crushed victims while others urinated on the members of the police and emergency services. This story angered Liverpool fans and victims’ relatives. The writer of this story refused to apologize and only did so after an independent commission had established the truth. However, the apology came 23 years after the tragedy[5]. Concerning defamation law, it is evident that The Star had broken the law. It had published a story that was defamatory to Liverpool fans. By accusing the fans of stealing from their dead colleague was insensitive and malicious. Again, the claim that the fans urinated on the members of emergency services was defamatory. This story portrayed Liverpool fans as insensitive and inhuman. It further cast aspersions on the character of the fans. As a result, the disaster was blamed on football hooligan when the actual cause was police ineffectiveness. However, Sun was ordered to apologize after it became evident that their story was founded on hearsay and lies. Although some Liverpool fans did not accept the apology, the apology was in good faith[6]. In defamation cases, journalists and media owners hold the view they are exercising their freedom of speech as per the law. Members of the Index on Censorship safeguards laws regarding slander and libel in Britain. Nowadays, the Media is supposed to substantiate claims especially those that border on defamation or character assassination. PART 2

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