Press release

Updated Defamation Principles provide guidelines on defamation in digital age

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09 Mar 2017



Today, at an event in Tunisia, ARTICLE 19 launched the updated Second Edition of our Defining Defamation: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Reputation.

Defamation laws, while aiming to prevent or redress harms to reputation resulting from speech, 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. The Principles, one of the first standard setting documents in this area, originally adopted in 1999, are updated to set out the appropriate balance between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect individual reputation in the digital age.

In the last fifteen years, there have been significant developments in legal, social and technological spheres that impact on how freedom of expression and reputation are balanced. On the positive side, many countries have decriminalised defamation and introduced free speech safeguards in their defamation legislations;” commented Saloua Ghazouani, Director of ARTICLE 19 Tunisia and MENA region.

“However, the struggle between freedom of expression and protecting reputation has found a new battlefield in the Internet, where allegedly defamatory statements can be hyperlinked, tweeted, re-tweeted or be permanently available. Worrying trends in this area include calls or decisions to hold individuals and Internet intermediaries liable for allegedly defamatory material that they have not authored or interfered with,“ continued Ghazouani.

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, stated: “While still a valid and important guiding document, ARTICLE 19 believes that the original Defamation Principles had to be updated to properly reflect developments over the last 15 years. We hope that the updated Principles will be used in national, regional and international advocacy to improve protection of freedom of expression in this complex area.”

The updated Principles are based on developments in international law and standards, and evolving state practice as reflected in national laws and judgements of national courts in this area. ARTICLE 19 hopes that the updated Principles will provide a vital tool for legislators, policy makers, media, human rights activists and other stakeholders working on freedom of expression well into the future.


Background and the process

Since their adoption in 1999, The Defining Defamation Principles have obtained significant recognition and international endorsement. In 2015, ARTICLE 19 updated the Principles to reflect the new challenges in the area, in particular those relevant to digital technologies. The Draft Updated Principles were then the subject of broad consultations with international freedom of expression and media experts. To ensure the relevance of the Principles and broad ownership of them by stakeholders, ARTICLE 19 also organised online consultations on the draft text throughout 2016. The final version, released today, is an outcome of these consultations and further discussions that stem from the consultations.


The Defining Defamation Principles are available online here.

The Background paper - which summarises the relevant developments and a more detailed justification for an update of the Principles – see here.