Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The common law of defamation cut the balance between speech and reputation decisively in favor of reputation and allowed for the imposition of significant damages against media outlets that defamed. For the last four decades, U.S. media outlets have been insulated against the common law rules by the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Following Sullivan, Commonwealth countries clung steadfastly to common law rules and are only now beginning to modify the common law rules to provide speech and media protections. Rather than following Sullivan by adopting constitutional protections, however, Commonwealth courts have opted to provide that protection by expanding common-law qualified privilege protections.

The Authors examine the Reynolds' standard with particular emphasis on how that decision has affected media practices and reporting. They do so through empirical evidence rather than doctrinal analysis. The Authors engaged in extensive interviews with the British media during 2003 and 2004, four to five years after Reynolds was decided. Since some of the authors also conducted extensive interviews with the British media in the early 1990s, years before Reynolds was decided, the authors were able to compare and contrast their pre-Reynolds interviews with their post-Reynolds interviews, and thereby gain a better understanding of Reynolds' impact.

The Authors conclude that, although Reynolds has had some impact on British defamation law as well as on the practices of the British media, the impact has not been as dramatic as the Sullivan decision's impact on U.S. press and media practices.