The right of reply allows any individual or legal body who has been named or designated in the media to publish their version of the facts.
Thus, the principle of the right of reply is ensured in most European countries, to any person considered to have been dishonoured by a piece of journalism. This right is regulated differently depending on the legislation of that country and it is generally up to the arbitrator to assess the relevance of the request if the parties have not managed to agree.
The Council of Europe has been working for more than ten years on the harmonisation of these rights in Europe and their extension to the Internet.
The law of 29 July 1881 for the written press , the law of 7 August 1974 for radio and TV programmes (reviewed in 1984) and, finally, the 2004 law to ensure trust in the digital economy, define the formal framework of the right of reply. Its publication/broadcast is never automatic but an important body of law has been established over the course of time.
However, obtaining the right of reply by the legal channels is not easy.
The right of reply made its first appearance at the time of independence in 1831. Currently, it is governed by the law of 23 June 1961 which was revised in 2000.
The right of reply was established by articles 28g and subsequent articles of the Swiss civil code drawn up in 1907. The provisions are very precise: the newspaper must give a positive or negative answer regarding the possibility of right of reply in the 24 hours after a request has been submitted. The petitioner can pursue the request through several levels of justice up to the federal court.
The right of reply is guaranteed by article 5, paragraph V and article 29 of the Constitution of the Brazilian Republic, as well as by the Law of the Press n°5.250/65. The text of the Brazilian Constitution states that “the right of reply is ensured, proportional to the harm caused, in addition to the compensation for material, moral or image damage.”
The professional code further stipulates that the journalist must make “a rapid correction of the information which has been revealed to be inaccurate or false”. However, the media often takes upon themselves the ‘right to reply’ instead of the ‘right of reply’, a common way of twisting the law and vindicating the media organisation.
This right is written into Spanish law but is rarely used. It is, generally, official bodies and organisations that make use of it. The right of reply is framed within very strict norms which demand publication/broadcasting in the same strict conditions as the article/programme in question (same space or length, same page or same time, etc.)
In keeping with its political culture, the United Kingdom does not have a specific text on the subject.
Germany has an official right of reply. It was introduced for the first time in the state of Baden in 1831 then extended to the press by the imperial law of 1874 as a ‘demand for correction’ and established in the judicial system of each Land.
The German system imposes on the state the explicit obligation to defend citizens against any impact on their reputation or dignity caused by the media. Consequently, the right of reply – even if it is not called as such by the constitution – is a constitutional right.
In Germany, the right of reply is limited to a presentation of the facts, and does not include opinions and judgements.
“Any German or foreign individual, association, company, or public authority, has recourse to the right of reply in the national media. The reply cannot be defamatory and cannot extend the first report in length. The laws on the press stipulate that the media print them for free in the next possible edition, in the same section and, if possible, with the same typography as the first report. If an editor-in-chief refuses the demand, the claim to a reply can be enforced by legal injunction by a District Court”. (re Debate on freedom of expression).
Polish law guarantees the principle of a « right of reply », only legal way for the public to respond. Newspapers and broadcasting are required to publish / broadcast the right of reply within 7 days, a period reduced to 3 days for news websites. If the law seems very accurate, its implementation would be difficult and directly linked to the status of the complainant.
De Standaard : A compromise is sought
Belgian law is broad and ensures easy access to the right of reply for the public.
De Standaard therefore tries to find a compromise with the reader in order to avoid having to publish texts that are often over-long, badly written and that the newspaper cannot change. The mediator has the task of negotiating and rectifying any mistakes and interviewing the person concerned, in keeping with the journalistic process.
In the end, the publication of a right of reply as such is rare.
Europe 1 : Via the Legal Department
Immediate right of reply is not given on air except in extreme cases. The current procedure goes through the Legal Department, the General Secretary and the department directly impacted.
France 24 : Case by case
Le Monde : This is being debated
At the moment, when a text of right of reply is received, the original is sent to the newspaper’s lawyer and a copy to the journalist in question, as well as their head of department. After it has been discussed, a decision will be made about whether or not to publish it.
Ouest France : A formal commitment has been drawn up.
The commitment is clear: “All requests for the right of reply, whether or not expressed in terms foreseen by the law, must be dealt with politely and carefully. It is not only a question of the rights of a citizen versus the power of the press, but also a question of the newspaper’s relationship with its readers. Our image in the long term depends on the way this is handled. It must therefore always be discussed with our readers, but also internally, and before any decision is made. To avoid restrictions drawn up by the law, we try to offer a compromise satisfactory to the reader, without exposing our columns to undue attention: a correction – if there is a mistake, we correct it; a clarification – if there is information missing, we provide it; opinion – by readers’ letters or the forum; an editorial amendment added later – we commit to providing a reply as soon as possible”.
Each request for right of reply is subject to two viewpoints: the legal department and the head of department or chief editor.
Sometimes a request is rejected as it has no legal basis; if so, the editorial office will always provide a response indicating that this is the case. They will have the final word.
The number of requests for right of reply has halved in the last 20 years, as have other legal disputes. This is partly explained by the fact that all our journalists have had basic training in the Press and the Law.
Berliner Zeitung : The law is adhered to
German law states that the right of reply is limited to an explanation of the facts and it excludes all opinions or judgments. It mainly covers defamation.
ZDF : According to the law
Apart from the legal texts, right of reply is covered by the ninth paragraph of the Inter-Länder public treaty for ZDF of 31 August 1991.
The Irish Times : No equivalent in Ireland
Polskie Radio, kanal 3 : According to the law
Polish law provides quite precise regulations regarding the right of reply but it is difficult to apply on radio when news is continually changing.
BBC : Granted and commented on
The BBC receives about 100 requests for right of reply every year. The Editorial Policy unit plays an advisory role on the form and duration of the right of reply.
The right of reply can be commented on.
The Guardian : No policy as such
The Guardian does not publish a right of reply as such. However, people who would like to express a reaction to an article can do so in the Response column published four days a week.