Journalist Attempts To Silence Criticism Of Her Ethics By Brandishing The Club Of UK Defamation Laws

from the journalism dept

Defamation is only supposed to apply to cases where there's a factually false statement made about someone. It shouldn't apply to cases where the facts are accurate, or the statements are opinions. But while the US's defamation laws generally deal pretty well with this, it's not as clear elsewhere. The UK, unfortunately, is somewhat famous for its bad defamation laws, where the burden is generally on the accused to prove they didn't defame someone -- which can be an expensive process. Over the past week or so, video gaming journalists and industry watchers have been dealing with a bit of controversy. Eurogamer columnist Rab Florence wrote a column questioning the close relationship between some gaming journalists and the companies they cover, where it sometimes seems like the journalists are pitch people, rather than objective journalists. This is not a new concern, especially in video game journalism, where such accusations tend to show up pretty regularly (sometimes more accurately than others).

While a lot of the controversy is over those accusations, that's not the really controversial thing that happened. That's because part of Florence's article quoted some tweets from Lauren Wainwright, who worked for another publication, and then pointed out that the tweets at least raised concerns in his mind. Here's what he wrote:
One games journalist, Lauren Wainwright, tweeted: “Urm… Trion were giving away PS3s to journalists at the GMAs. Not sure why that’s a bad thing?”

Now, a few tweets earlier, she also tweeted this: “Lara header, two TR pix in the gallery and a very subtle TR background. #obsessed @tombraider pic.twitter.com/VOWDSavZ”

And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team. I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there. After all, she sees nothing wrong with journalists promoting a game to win a PS3, right?

Another journalist, one of the winners of the PS3 competition, tweeted this at disgusted RPS writer John Walker: “It was a hashtag, not an advert. Get off the pedestal.” Now, this was Dave Cook, a guy I’ve met before. A good guy, as far as I could tell. But I don’t believe for one second that Dave doesn’t understand that in this time of social media madness a hashtag is just as powerful as an advert. Either he’s on the defensive or he doesn’t get what being a journalist is actually about.
Now, I actually have gone an extra paragraph past the stuff just about Wainwright, in part because the four paragraphs above no longer appear in the article. Why? Well, according to Eurogamer, it edited out those paragraphs after legal threats from Wainwright.
The first is that a lot of people want to know more about why I made the changes and issued an apology. The answer is that Lauren Wainwright threatened us with legal action and made it clear she would not back down, at which point we took legal advice and ultimately made the decision to remove the paragraphs. It was not a decision that I took lightly. One objection to this action that I've read online is that there was no libel. All I can really say is that the advice we received meant that removing the offending text and apologising to Lauren was the right course of action to take. We also considered the fact that the article wasn't really about her but about all of us, and I felt that the edited version did not change Rab's meaning.
Of course, as we all know, all this has really done is call a hell of a lot more attention to what she said and did, including further accusations coming out later about some of her actions, as well as many more people reading the paragraphs she threatened over.

It's entirely possible that Eurogamer removed the content because of the cost that would be involved in fighting off a lawsuit, but it is a big issue to see a journalist threaten another publication over quoting her and expressing an opinion. Wainwright could have merely responded to the questions directly -- but going so far as to threaten litigation is ridiculous and deserves to be called out. In fact, as Erik Kain at Forbes points out in the link above, it's not just ridiculous, it's hypocritical, since Wainwright herself has a history of quoting others' tweets and then adding commentary.

What it highlights is that she apparently didn't like Florence's opinion, which is clearly stated as his opinion. He worries about even the appearance of possible bias, which is a reasonable position to take. But rather than leading to an interesting discussion about bias and journalism, it instead went into this ridiculous detour about defamation law and censorship over criticism.

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  1. identicon
    Lord Binky, 1 Nov 2012 @ 12:12pm

    In a carefully executed plan to bring more attention to the original opinion that Lauren Wainwright's actions allow for suspicion over her opinions and that she finds the concern over the 'prizes' she won is necessary to hide, the editor acquiesced to her threats of legal recourse and apologized. All of which does not make her look less suspicious....

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