What is the Fact-checkers Legal Support Initiative?

The Fact-checkers Legal Support Initiative (FLSI) is a collaboration between three leading media law and journalism organizations, brought together to support fact-checkers around the world.

FLSI provides legal defense for fact-checkers, connecting them with pro bono lawyers, helping to pay legal fees where pro bono support isn’t available, and providing technical legal assistance to pro bono lawyers. FLSI will also publish a guide for fact-checkers covering the main legal and non-legal risks fact-checkers face and how to mitigate them.

Who is behind the Fact-checkers Legal Support Initiative?

FLSI is a collaboration between three organizations. The Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) , and the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). Find out more about our partner organizations

How does FLSI support fact-checkers?

Fact-checkers might need legal defense in relation to legal action in response to debunking an article, or they may require assistance filing a criminal complaint about death threats received in response to their fact-checking work. FLSI provides legal support for fact-checkers in four main ways:

Connecting fact-checkers with pro bono lawyers

In countries where pro bono lawyers are available, or where the fact-checker is part of an organisation that has the resources for its own legal defence, FLSI will assist the fact-checker to identify a suitable lawyer.

Fact-checkers are free to choose their own lawyers. FLSI does not impose lawyers on fact-checkers – they are encouraged to identify their own lawyers. However, if the fact-checker is unable to find a suitable lawyer, FLSI can recommend a specialist from its own network.  Providing legal defense in cases related to the media is at the core of MLDI’s work globally, and is a strong component of RCFP’s work in the US. Both organizations have developed a network of lawyers on whose services they can depend.

 

Legal guides for fact-checkers

FLSI will create and publish guides covering the main legal and non-legal threats that fact-checkers face and detailing how they can be mitigated. The first guides that FLSI will produce will cover Brazil, Italy, the Philippines and the U.S. – reflecting the increased legal threats faced by fact-checkers in these countries. More countries may be added in the future.

There will be other material, related to non-legal risks, which is not country specific and can be used by fact-checkers everywhere. The RCFP will lead development of the guide for fact-checkers in the U.S. and coordinate with other media lawyers who will author the remaining chapters.

Helping to pay legal fees

Where no pro bono legal support is available: FLSI has a fund to pay for fact-checkers’ legal fees. FLSI does not pay fines or damage awards, and does not take any portion of any compensation received by fact-checkers. FLSI will pay some or all of the legal fees of a lawyer only when FLSI is the only realistic avenue to provide the support required.

The amount paid to lawyers is determined by the complexity of the case, court fees and the cost of litigating in that country. The FLSI fund, managed by MLDI, does not pay a daily, hourly or monthly rate. Instead it bases its grant to the relevant lawyer on a budget prepared by the lawyer on the assumption that they will see the case through to the end of the relevant instance. Where necessary FLSI may make further grants to cover appeals.

Legal support to lawyers

As needed, FLSI may provide specialised technical legal support to lawyers representing fact-checkers.

If you need legal support because of your fact-checking work, apply using MLDI’s secure portal.

About fact-checking

Who counts as a fact-checker?

Fact-checkers are organizations and individuals that regularly publish nonpartisan reports on the accuracy of statements by public figures, major institutions and other widely circulated claims of interest to society.

Fact-checkers that are part of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) have also committed to abide by a code of principles (the Code), which includes commitments to political neutrality, transparency on sourcing and funding and robust correction policies. To maintain verification, each signatory’s compliance with the code is assessed annually.

How many fact-checkers are there?

Currently, there are 59 verified signatories of the Code. Estimates of the overall number of fact-checking organizations around the world range between 160 and 200.

Why do fact-checkers need special help?

Fact-checkers are facing an increasingly hostile environment. At a time when the term ‘fake news’ has been weaponized, fact-checkers themselves are being targeted with online harassment and threatened with legal action. When facing these threats, many do not have the resources to defend themselves. Though some fact-checkers are housed in large media companies, the majority around the world are small, independent not-for-profit organizations, operating with few resources and on shoestring budgets. This makes them especially vulnerable to legal threats.

How do you know the information fact-checkers put out is correct?

FLSI is primarily aimed at supporting verified signatories of the IFCN’s code of principles (the Code) which includes commitments to political neutrality, transparency on sourcing and funding and robust correction policies. Every signatory organization’s compliance is assessed annually.

What if fact-checkers are partisan or they make a mistake?

FLSI is primarily aimed at supporting verified signatories of the Code. Fact-checkers that are verified signatories are committed to non-partisanship and fairness, transparency of sources, funding, organization and methodology, and an open and honest corrections policy.

Honest mistakes may happen. However, where IFCN-verified fact-checkers make a mistake, they will correct clearly and transparently in line with their corrections policy, seeking so far as possible, to ensure that readers see the corrected version.