Printing press, press freedom, press, media, paper, news, free, fair. Photo by Michael Walker

Johannesburg - A new South African media law handbook for working journalists was launched in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“This book will play an important role in making the law regulating the media accessible to journalists, editors and all those engaged in the dissemination of information in society,” former Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan says in the foreword.

“A Practical Guide to Media Law” provides the first comprehensive layman's update in decades on the legal restrictions and protections that fall under the umbrella of media law in South Africa.

It was written by media lawyers Dario Milo and Pamela Stein, of Webber Wentzel attorneys.

The publication has been positioned as a successor to the classic “Newspaperman's Guide to the Law”, first published by attorney Kelsey Stuart in 1968, with a string of updated editions in the 70s and 80s.

The project was in collaboration with the Section 16 organisation - so named after the constitutional clause which guarantees freedom of the media and of expression Ä backed by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.

Milo was one of the lead media attorneys in the recent successful groundbreaking application by media houses to broadcast live coverage of the high-profile Oscar Pistorius murder trial in Pretoria.

The publishers, LexisNexis SA, said “despite media law being a vast subject, Milo and Stein have produced a book that avoids the laborious detail of many legal textbooks.

“It is written in simple English and uses clear examples to illustrate the legal rules.”

In their own preface to the book, the authors say: “The area of law we describe in this book applies to both old and new media, and indeed the publication of statements by any means, whether print, television, email, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, or carrier pigeon.”

The publication is also expected to prove useful to members of the digital community of social media contributors, allowing them to check if what they are about to tell the world crosses the red line on defamation.