In this regular feature we draw attention to the last week’s law and media news and next week’s upcoming events. If readers have any news or events which they would like to draw attention to please add them by way of comments on this post.
The Government’s Defamation Bill is expected to be published this week. The Libel Reform campaign has issued a pamphlet entitled “”What should a defamation bill contain?” setting out its views on the contents of any bill. There are comments about the discussion document by campaign supporters Simon Singh and David Allen Green.
Some of the Libel Reform Campaign proposals are sensible but some are not – particularly the idea of introducing a US style public interest defence which can only be defeated by malice. The Campaign still appears to be believe that English libel laws are uniquely “pro-claimant” and anti-freedom of expression rather than being unremarkable and “mainstream” in international terms.
Libel Reform Campaigners have sometimes been associated with the attacks on CFAs in libel cases. There is an interesting take on this issue by journalist Hardeep Singh, who has recently successfully defended a libel claim. He points out that “no win, no fee agreements” are the only way to defend against a party with a deeper pocket.
Phone hacking cannot be kept out of the news for long. We have recently posted about some of the developments in this area over the past week. In addition, there have been the revelations about the activities of former private investigator Jonathan Rees on behalf of the “News of the World”. Mr Rees was paid £150,000 a year and apparently obtained information from corrupt police and illegal sources.
The newspapers today report a “New twist” in the phone hacking story with tonight’s Panorama programme due to name a “sixth journalist” – Alex Marunchak – as being involved. There is a report in the “Guardian” – which also has a letter from the DPP criticising Assistant Commissioner John Yates. The Panorama story also features in the “Daily Mail” and the “Financial Times” has the story about the DPP’s letter.
The extraordinary story of an MP who broke the terms of an injunction where no public interest appears to have been involved is picked up in a number of places. The Mediapal@LSE blog has one of the few intelligent discussions of the subject under the headline “Asking Turkeys to Vote for Christmas: or Reflecting on the abuse of Parliamentary Privilege”.
The Meeja Law blog has its “Midweek media law mop-up: Parliamentary privilege; police leaks; and poppies”.
Journalism and the PCC
The PCC Watch blog continues to follow up the story of the libel settlement in the case brought against the PCC and Baroness Buscombe by solicitor Mark Lewis with a post entitled “Libel, Buscombe and the PCC: what’s going on?”. The settlement figure of £20,000 was disclosed at a hearing of Mr Lewis’ claim against the Metropolitan Police. As PCC Watch says, this is of particular interest given that the PCC was previously unwilling to release this information (despite a request from the Media Standards Trust), and that in an interview on Radio 4’s Media Show four weeks ago Baroness Buscombe appeared to suggest she/the PCC had not apologised or paid damages
“Full Fact.org” has an article “In search of corrections for churnalism hoaxes” about its follow up to the hoaxes perpetrated on various mainstream media outlets by the Media Standards Trust (MST) in association with film director Chris Atkins, when launching churnalism.com. There is also a follow up piece here. Full Fact is seeking corrections from the newspapers and broadcasters who were duped. It may be a long wait.
Tabloid Watch continues to monitor the now PCC-free “Daily Star” which last week admitted that yet another front page story was wrong – this time relating to Katie Price and Amir Khan.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
There was one Statement in Open Court this week – an apology to Court of Appeal judge Sir Stephen Sedley by the “Daily Telegraph”. There is a report about the case on the 5RB Website as well as in the Press Gazette and the Lawyer.
In Northern Ireland, investigative journalist Suzanne Breen has won libel damages from the National Union of Journalists over an article about her which appeared in union magazine – The Journalist. The story is reported in the Press Gazette under the headline ‘Substantial’ libel payout from NUJ to Suzanne Breen
In the Courts
On 10 March 2011, the Court of Appeal heard an appeal in the privacy injunction case of ETK v News Group Newspapers. The substantive appeal was heard in private. The ever attentive Benjamin Pell noticed the listing and instructed soon to be QC David Price to make an application on his behalf for a public hearing. The application was dismissed by the court in the following terms (we are grateful to Mr Pell for his note of the reasons)
” There is a principle that hearings should take place in public as it is necessary for justice to be subject to scrutiny. Speaking as an emigre from the Family Division, I have considerable sympathy for that position, but in this issue, the public already knows that the Applicant is in the entertainment industry. This appeal is likely to be determined on the facts. It is a fact specific case and there is very little effective point in allowing the public to hear sterile argument on the law and boot the public out when it gets to the naughty bits. We will conduct this hearing in private but I am sympathetic and open to persuasion that any judgment we give should be given in open court. Much as I enjoy Mr Pell scribbling away, I am afraid that I am going to ask him and members of the public to leave us to it”
Judgment on the appeal was reserved after a hearing in private.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
In the New South Wales case of Bruce Haddon v Dominic Steele and Evan Batten Simpson J dismissed a defamation claim realting to email allegations of sexual harassment. The judge found it true that he introduced sexual topics into his conversations, made unwelcome comments on the women’s appearance and clothes, and inappropriately kissed and touched them. There is a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.
In Habib v Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Ltd & Anor (No 2)  NSWDC 7 the District Court considered what in Australia is the apparently vexed question as to whether a jury could be shown transcripts of the radio broadcasts which were sued over. It was held that they could not be tendered as exhibits before the jury but could be marked for identification and copies of them may be provided to the jury as aids to memory, accompanied by explanations and directions to the effect that the transcripts so provided, do not constitute evidence or exhibits in the proceedings.”
In Dana Naye Ventures v. Canada (Attorney General), 2011 YKSC 20 the Supreme Court of the Yukon dismissed an application to strike out a libel action on the grounds that insufficient particulars of publication had been provided.
In A.B. v. Bragg Communications Inc., 2011 NSCA 26 the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal defamation dismissed an application against the refusal of an anonymity order in a defamation action. The plaintiff was a teenager, victimized by on-line bullying who sought to be permitted to pursue an action in defamation by concealing her identity through the use of a pseudonym, or that a publication ban be imposed such that the public would be denied access to the words posted on Facebook, which she claimed were defamatory. The Court of Appeal held that to initiate an action for defamation, one must present oneself and the alleged defamatory statements before a jury and in open court. To be able to proceed with a defamation claim under a cloak of secrecy is contrary to the quintessential features of defamation law.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post
From the Blogs
The Strasbourg Observers blog has two posts of interest to Inforrm readers. The first is on “Banning Speech in the Public Space” and reflects on the recent Article 10 judgment in Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v. Switzerland (discussed by us in a post in January). It is suggested that there is a strong argument for this judgment to be referred to the Grand Chamber. The post also refers to the recent judgment of the German Federal Constitutional Court in the Fraport Airport case which held that a ban on entering an airport to distribute leaflets was a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Second, there is a post about the French criminal libel case brought against the editor-in-chief of the European Journal of International Law (EJIL) and its associated Book Review website http://www.GlobalLawBooks.org over a book review. The defendant was acquitted and the post contains interesting extracts from the judgment. There is a report about the case in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
Finally, we note a piece on the UK Human Rights Blog by the legal researcher Lucy Series entitled ‘Balancing transparency with ‘secrecy’ in the Court of Protection’. This is taken from Ms Series own “Small Places” blog.
Events and Television
No public events for next week have been reported to us. At 20.30 on Monday 14 March 2011 there is a “Panorama” programme “Tabloid Hacks Exposed” which sets out to expose the full extent of the “dark arts” employed by journalists across the industry to get their story.
Next Week in the Courts
We are not aware of any hearings in media law cases before the courts in next 7 days.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Bowker v Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, heard 21 October 2010 (Sharp J).
Cook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd heard 25 February 2011 (Tugendhat J)
Baturina v Times Newspapers heard 28 February and 1 March 2011 (Master of the Rolls, Sedley and Hooper LJJ)
Lewis v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, heard 3 and 4 March 2011 (Tugendhat J)
ETK v News Group Newspapers, heard 10 March 2011 (Ward, Laws and Moore-Bick LJJ)