News outlets are always publishing sensational stories about people who have not yet been convicted but just suspected of a crime.....

The person loses his job and at worst, creates a 'Trial by Media' scenario.

I'm wondering how do news outlets avoid defamation lawsuits by the alleged when they publish such article?

  • 2
    Do you have any examples of what you're talking about? News articles about crimes that I've read tend to be meticulous about differentiating between fact, allegation, and supposition.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 7:55
  • 3
    Because they are exactly that: alleged. Factual reporting of actual charges does not at all imply guilt under those charges, any more than it implies innocence when charges are not reported of something.
    – user4657
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 8:15
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Does the word "allegedly" shield from defamation claims?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 8:42
  • Jurisdiction matters here.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 15:35

1 Answer 1



Section 2(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 provides:

It is a defence to an action for defamation for the defendant to show that the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of is substantially true.

If a newspaper prints that a person has been accused of a crime and that person has in fact been accused of a crime, then the statement is truthful and there is no defamation.

It would be different if the newspaper printed that the person had committed the crime (which implies they have been found guilty). If you pay close attention to such news articles you will see that they are usually very careful to use words such as "alleged", "accused", "is on trial for" etc.

See the case of Christoper Jefferies for an example of a person who was accused of a murder, but subsequently found innocent, and who successfully sued various newspapers for defamation. In that case the articles had gone beyond mere statements of fact:

He cited several examples of headlines and stories that had been published, including a headline in The Sun describing Jefferies – a former schoolmaster at Clifton College – as weird, posh, lewd and creepy; a story from the Daily Express quoting unnamed former pupils referring to him as "... a sort of Nutty Professor" who made them feel "creeped out" by his "strange" behaviour; and an article from the Daily Telegraph, which reported Jefferies "has been described by pupils at Clifton College ... as a fan of dark and violent avant-garde films". Jefferies launched legal action against six newspapers on 21 April – The Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star, the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and the Daily Record – seeking damages for libel. It was held that the media were quick to jump to conclusions regarding Jefferies's arrest. Being a retired English teacher who lived alone, whose physical appearance and "eccentrically unkempt white hair," made him stand out, led people to believe that he looked the type. Stephen Moss wrote in The Guardian: "The unspoken assumption was that no one could look that odd and be innocent."

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