Defining defamation: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Reputation
01 Jul 2000
These Principles set out an appropriate balance between the human right to freedom of expression, guaranteed in UN and regional human rights instruments as well as nearly every national constitution, and the need to protect individual reputations, widely recognised by international human rights instruments and the law in countries around the world. The Principles are based on the premise that in a democratic society, freedom of expression must be guaranteed and may be subject only to narrowly drawn restrictions which are necessary to protect legitimate interests, including reputations. In particular, they set out standards of respect for freedom of expression to which legal provisions designed to protect reputations should, at a minimum, conform.
These Principles are based on international law and standards, evolving state practice (as reflected, inter alia, in national laws and judgments of national courts), and the general principles of law recognised by the community of nations. They are the product of a long process of study, analysis and consultation overseen by ARTICLE 19, including a number of national and international seminars and workshops. The final steps in this process were a Workshop on Defamation Law, held from 29 February - 1 March 2000 in London, United Kingdom and broad consultation around the draft that emerged from that Workshop.
The scope of these Principles is limited to the question of striking an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and injury to reputation. By reputation is meant the esteem in which an individual is generally held within a particular community. These Principles should neither be taken as foreclosing nor as approving restrictions designed to protect other interests – including in such areas as privacy, self-esteem or hate speech – which deserve separate treatment.
 Nothing in the present Principles shall imply that States may not provide greater protection for freedom of expression than set out herein.
 These include formal statements on defamation law and freedom of expression in the Ota Platform of Action on Media Law Reform in Nigeria, adopted by participants at the Media Law Reform Workshop, held at Ota, Nigeria, from 16-18 March 1999, and the Declaration Regarding Principles on Freedom of Expression and Defamation, adopted by participants at the International Colloquium on Freedom of Expression and Defamation Law, 15-17 September 1999, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
 A list of participants at this Workshop is included as Appendix A.
 For the purposes of these Principles, laws which purport, at least at a prima facie level, to strike this balance will be referred to as ‘defamation laws’, recognising that in different countries these laws go by a variety of other names, including insult, libel, slander and desacato.
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