Tag Archives: public relations law

Case study shows the legal pros and cons of a media release


MEDIA releases are meant to enhance brand reputation but they can sometimes have the reverse effect, as we explain in the forthcoming sixth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2019).


We profile the Born Brands case (2013), where two media releases had vastly different consequences for the manufacturers of a device to help better position infants during sleep.

The first was particularly successful, generating a news segment on Brisbane Extra about its Babywedge product and an appearance on national morning television (Born Brands case, para. 8).

But the second media release—this time emanating from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)—caused unexpected damage because it warned consumers against using infant sleep positioners.

Babywedge then featured on a Channel 9 news segment among other such products in a story about the potential dangers of infant sleep positioners (at para. 14).

As part of the fallout from the crisis, Born Brands sued the Nine Network for both defamation and injurious falsehood, claiming the news item damaged its reputation as a small corporation (fewer than 10 employees) and that it contained false statements, published with malice, which had caused it actual financial loss (injurious falsehood).

However, the company found no relief because the television network managed to defend both actions successfully, with the court finding the statements were not false and that no malice had been proven (paras 184–9).


Like earlier editions, our text aims to give professional communicators and students a basic working understanding of the key areas of media law and ethical regulation likely to affect them in their research, writing and publishing across media platforms. It tries to do this by introducing the basic legal concepts while exploring the ways in which a professional communicator’s work practices can be adapted to withstand legal challenges.

If you wish to request a copy for course inspection or media review please contact the publisher, Allen & Unwin, who will have printed copies available from late November.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2018


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Filed under defamation, free expression, journalism, media law, Media regulation, public relations

New edition has a section on contract law for PR and new media entrepreneurs


Our latest edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Mark Pearson & Mark Polden, Allen & Unwin, 2015) has a whole chapter on law for public relations, freelancing and new media entrepreneurs.

the-journalist-s-guide-to-media-lawOne of the key topics arising for such people is the law of contract, which is a complex field requiring expert legal advice.

We’ve mapped out the very basics though for the benefit of such professional communicators. Here’s a short excerpt:

A breach of an important contract can be devastating to the financial viability of a public relations consultancy or freelance writer, and it can ruin the prospects of a start-up media venture getting off the ground. While the law of contract can get very complex, the basic concept of a contract is fairly simple: a contract is a legally enforceable promise. It is something crucial to the effective operation of a business, because our financial system operates on the principle of promises being kept rather than broken, so that there is an element of trust and predictability in our dealings. Contracts play a role in a variety of situations in the PR and news business. They can cover the terms of employment for a freelance journalist or other staff, the agreed price and timelines for professional services being offered, and the division of royalties that might flow to investors from a creative news product you are bringing to market. Gibson and Fraser (2011: 305–6) list the essential elements of a contract:

  • an intention to contract
  • an agreement between the parties (including an offer and acceptance)
  • ‘consideration’—what Gibson and Fraser (2011: 305–6) describe as ‘something of value passing from one party to another in return for a promise to do something’.

Contract law can be a specialised area, and constitutes a subject in law degrees—partly because there is a body of case law over the circumstances in which a contract might be deemed valid by a court. In determining a contract’s validity, a court will consider the legal capacity of the parties who have entered into the contract, evidence of their consent, the legality of the purpose of the contract and the form the contract takes (Gibson and Fraser, 2011: 307). The action for ‘breach of contract’ arises when one or more terms of the contract have not been met—which might include work not being completed within an agreed timeline. This is usually where lawyers enter the fray, and a contract dispute can involve long and expensive court action, although alternative forms of dispute resolution are becoming more common. Griggs, Clark and Iredale (2009: 85) recommend that managers follow these steps when they are drawing up a business contract:

  • reducing the agreement to writing and ensuring it contains all the agreed terms
  • drafting it in plain English that does not require interpretation
  • ensuring it contemplates obvious problems and presents a process for a solution
  • ensuring compliance with any relevant legislation
  • limiting exposure to liability
  • identifying the law that should apply, particularly in international contracts.

A complex sub-branch of the law of contract is the law of agency—the term used to describe the authority you might assign to someone to enter into contracts on behalf of your business. An example of a contract dispute over public relations services was a West Australian District Court case involving a consultant to a South African mining company considering buyouts or mergers with other mining companies (Mining PR case, 2004). The dispute surrounded a ‘partly written, partly oral and partly implied’ agreement to provide ‘public relations, lobbying, consulting, networking, facilitating and co-ordinating’ services. The problem was that very little was detailed in the agreement, forcing the judge to look at previous work done by the consultant and to come to an estimate of the number of hours he had worked and their value on this occasion. He awarded him $830 per day for eight weeks, totalling $33 200 plus expenses.


Gibson, A. and Fraser, I. 2011, Business Law, 6th edn, Pearson Education, Sydney.

Griggs, L., Clark, E. and Iredale, I. 2009, Managers and the Law: A Guide for Business Decision Makers, 3rd edn, Thomson Reuters, Sydney.


Mining PR case: Newshore Nominees Pty Ltd as trustee for the Commercial and Equities Trust v Durvan Roodepoort Deep, Limited [2004] WADC 57, <www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/wa/WADC/2004/57.html>.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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