NCTJ seeks editors' views on online law exams

The National Council for the Training of Journalists is preparing new exam scenarios for media law to account for new issues arising in online journalism.

The NCTJ's law examination board is set to discuss the issue at its meeting next month, and its chairman, Sheffield University lecturer Mark Hanna, is seeking feedback from editors whose web sites have faced threats of legal action.

"It's a case of stressing the need for people to think in an online dimension and to make sure our exam scenarios recognise the extent of online publication," said Hanna.

The increasing use of online video is forcing newspaper journalists to consider legal issues more commonly found in broadcast newsrooms, and Hanna said he hoped to tap into editors' experience of managing the legal aspects of convergence.

Other areas that may gain greater prominence are new legal challenges unique to the web, such as contempt of court risks arising from online archives and privacy or defamation concerns related to the growth of user-submitted content.

However, it is less clear which of these issues the accreditation body should emphasise in its exams.

"We're trying to assess what is a relatively common problem and what is going to be a rare problem. Because websites attached to local newspapers are still a fairly new development, we're not sure how much stress we should give to particular aspects of online law yet.

"We're trying to decide how much the student journalist or trainee should be expected to know, because in some cases the law is still evolving.

"We can't expect them to be experts — we need to make them a safe pair of hands generally."

Hanna is hoping to hear from editors about the extent to which these problems have arisen, and to what extent young journalists would be expected to encounter them.

• The 19th edition of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists, which is set to be published in June by Oxford University Press, will include a news chapter about online publishing law.

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