Given the spread of misinformation around the world, the role fact-checkers play in ensuring information is accurate and reliable has become increasingly important, but they are being targeted with harassment and legal threats because of their work. In response, the Fact-checkers Legal Support Initiative has published legal guides providing fact-checkers with information related to legal threats and non-legal challenges, like harassment and physical threats, they may face. As part of the FLSI, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press drafted the United States guide and coordinated with attorneys at WilmerHale, a U.S.-based law firm that has offices across the globe, who wrote the foreign guides pro bono.
While some fact-checkers work for large media companies, many are freelancers or work for smaller, independent and nonprofit outlets with fewer resources to hire a lawyer, making them especially vulnerable to legal threats.
The initial guides cover Brazil, Italy, the Philippines and the U.S., which the FLSI identified as countries where fact-checkers may face increased legal risks. The guides provide an overview of relevant laws and policies from each country but should not take the place of specific legal advice from a licensed attorney.
The U.S. guide includes information on libel, privacy, and other newsgathering issues, as well as access to government information and proceedings, subpoenas, harassment and prior restraints. Download the U.S. guide.
For fact-checkers in Brazil, Italy and the Philippines, the guides detail information related to defamation, privacy, access to government information and proceedings, source protection issues and copyright. Additionally, Brazil’s guide includes information on honor rights and image rights, also known as “personality rights.” Download the Brazil guide in English or Portuguese; the Italy guide in English or Italian; and the Philippines guide in English.
Launched in 2019 to support fact-checkers globally, the Fact-checkers Legal Support Initiative is a collaboration between the Media Legal Defence Initiative, International Fact-Checking Network and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. In addition to publishing legal guides, the FLSI connects fact-checkers with lawyers and maintains a fund, managed by MLDI, to help cover fact-checkers’ legal fees when pro bono support isn’t available. Fact-checkers in need of legal support because of their work can apply through MLDI’s secure portal.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and represents journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.