By Rebecca Rosen Lum
A stereo manufacturer sues a reviewer who pans the company’s speakers. A restaurateur mounts a legal challenge after a food critic describes the fare as inedible. A judge files a defamation suit after an article suggests he is being investigated for ethics violation.
Never mind that all these cases and many more like them went nowhere. It cost plenty to answer them.
While investigative reporters are frequently hit with court challenges, other specialties are vulnerable as well, says attorney Michelle Worrell Tilton of the Kansas City-based Media Risk Consultants. Entertainment writers are sometimes accused of copyright infringement. Food writers are frequently hit with suits, as are advice columnists –including automotive, real estate, and financial advice columnists.
That can be a chilling reality for freelancers who may not have the support of a news organization. Is a carefully worded contract protection enough? Or are they wise to obtain professional indemnity (or “media perils”) coverage?
“I think it is a good idea to have it,” says David Greene, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “At a minimum, make sure you are covered by the publication, but it makes sense to fill in the gaps.”