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If you repeat something libelous you can be held responsible for it. This includes repeating direct quotes from someone who is making allegations about someone else. It is no excuse in law to argue that it was published, for example, in The Guardian first - or that someone else said it first. Also, the main libel defence in the UK – that of Reynolds Privilege – states that people must take any accusations to the person concerned before publication. The nature of a Wiki like Powerbase is that we cannot do this. So we need to be extra careful in tone, as well as in the substance of any allegations.

Even without lawsuits, web hosts or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will sometimes simply remove a site from the internet if someone contacts them saying it contains libelous material. Silencing critical websites in this way is often the real goal of the accusers. In such cases, it is up to the accused organization (Powerbase) to prove to the web host or ISP that their material is not libelous. This can take weeks or months and tie up valuable time and resources.

We aim to prevent legal problems arising by having all writers adhere to the following guidelines.

Focus on facts

Try to be as factual as possible. Do not use abusive language or language that is in any way racist, sexist or obscene or could be construed as such. Do not use swear words unless in quotations. Keep any rhetoric or personal comment to a minimum and avoid speculation, innuendo or libel. If you provide comment, please be fair. Being fair does not mean avoiding criticism or analysis, however. Just try to strike the correct balance. You want the article to contain factual information about the person you are writing about, not your views on the person you are writing about. There is a difference between a profile entry and a blog entry or an opinion piece.

Avoid generalizations and unsubstantiated sweeping statements.

If you are making accusations against a person or organization, you must support it with as much primary material as possible. Just because someone else has said it is true, does not mean it is true. Make sure your sources are up to date, and relate to present day situation - or indicate that they are historical.

Avoid broad, inflammatory, and derogatory labeling terms

Inflammatory, broad, and derogatory labeling terms such as “islamophobic”, “racist”, “sexist”, “anti-environmentalist”, etc. are best avoided unless you are prepared to define the term and lay out the case for why the person or organization fits the label.

You are welcome to make the argument in your article that a person or organization is any of these things – this may even be the point of the article – but you need to present the evidence that justifies that label. Then, if you do introduce a labeling term, readers will already have come to that judgment of their own accord and it will not seem like emotive name-calling on your part.

A good test as to whether you are using a labeling term carefully enough is to ask yourself: "If I were to remove the labeling term, would the article stand alone as evidence that this person is ... (islamophobic/racist, etc.)?" You need to get the article to the point where you can answer this question with a confident "Yes".

Don’t make statements you can’t back up with evidence

Any contentious or unflattering statement must be backed by evidence. Provide references to sources and ensure that you are using sources correctly, i.e. accurately representing what they say. Also if the person / organisation / company etc. has denied the accusation in material you are quoting from (or later in a letter of clarification or a correction note), this should be reflected in the article you write.

Quote accurately

Take care to quote people or printed material accurately, and to represent their views correctly. Misquotations can be used as an excuse to sue, or even (in the case of world leaders) an excuse to threaten war.

A notorious example of misquotation, helped along by the language barrier, arose from a statement by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who became the president of Iran in 2005. He was widely quoted in the Western press and by Western political leaders as making a statement that was translated as, “Israel must be wiped off the face of the map.”[1]

But Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, said,

Ahmadinejad did not say that ‘Israel must be wiped off the map’ with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.[2]

In other words, according to Cole, Ahmadinejad was talking about the end of the Zionist regime, which could occur of its own accord, rather than destroying the state of Israel.

Don’t quote out of context

Take care not to quote people or printed material out of context, thereby changing their/its meaning. Powerbase authors will be very familiar with this practice, as engaged in by the people and organizations that they work to expose. That’s all the more reason why Powerbase authors must exercise great care when using quotes.

An example of quoting out of context is US President George W. Bush’s attempt to justify his failure to take action on global warming by quoting a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report of 2001. Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer claimed the report, which mentioned “natural variability” [3] in climate, was “inconclusive” about whether humans or natural causes were responsible for global warming.[4]

But in fact, the NAS report did blame human activities for the major part of global warming, as is clear from the full context of the quote:

Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural variability. Human-induced warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through the 21st century…The committee generally agrees with the assessment of human-caused climate change presented in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] … report.[5]

The IPCC report with which the NAS is agreeing concluded, in a statement completely at odds with Bush’s claim,

The Earth’s climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era, with some of these changes attributable to human activities.[6]

Be specific about sources

Backing up your statements with evidence does not mean just inserting a weblink to an entire website, book, or article in the hope that your reader will trawl through it in a search for the relevant evidence. This is equivalent to reporting a murder to the police and telling them that the body is somewhere in London. Please extract the relevant quote or section and present it clearly. Give specific references to page numbers, etc.

Choose sources with care

Not all sources carry equal credibility. Please read the detailed guidelines on choosing sources for Powerbase articles.

If in doubt email melissa.jones AT powerbase.info or the relevant portal editor.


It's seldom what you expect

A legal threat issued to a campaign group or NGO is often not about the obvious issues and not from the obvious target people/organizations. It might be about something apparently trivial, such as the use of a copyrighted image without permission or an article calling someone an anti-environmentalist or racist – even if the author thinks the rest of the article more than backs up the label. And it is often not from a big corporation – possibly because the resulting bad publicity would not be worth it for them – but from someone that most people have never heard of. So care should be taken, even over obscure subjects and seemingly small matters like permission to use innocuous photographs.


Please read the comprehensive guide to referencing Powerbase articles here A_Guide_to_Referencing


  1. See, for example, “Iran president sees ‘countdown’ to Israel's end”, Reuters, 3 June 2007, accessed October 2008
  2. Juan Cole, “Informed comment: thoughts on the Middle East, history, and religion”, website of Juan Cole, accessed October 2008
  3. Executive Summary”, “Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions”, National Academy of Sciences, 2001, p. 1, accessed October 2008
  4. Cited in Lindsay Sobel, “The year of the ostrich: It's getting harder for Bush to hide from the facts of global warming”, The American Prospect, 7 June 2001, accessed October 2008
  5. Executive Summary”, “Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions”, National Academy of Sciences, 2001, p. 1, accessed October 2008
  6. Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers”, IPCC Third Assessment Report, IPCC, 2001, p. 4