Lord McAlpine’s settlement with the BBC for £185,000 plus costs, and the threat of legal action against tweeters who published his name following Newsnight’s false allegations has been the top media law story of the week. A transcript of McAlpine’s interview with BBC World at One is available here; his solicitor’s interview with the programme can be listened to here.
“Very sadly we’re going to have to take action against a lot of people“ … “It’s a very long list and there are other broadcasters on it .. and we will be getting to them, but hopefully they will come to us“.
The Guardian’s Reader’s Editor, Chris Elliott, has written about the newspaper’s decision to publish McAlpine’s name, rather than use an anonymised initial, in its report on the Newsnight allegations. Elliott says:
“It was decided to go ahead after putting the story to Newsnight, and telling Lord McAlpine through a friend – he was not contactable directly – that they intended to publish a story that would exonerate him. He did not respond that night“.
In a breach of contract case, which included consideration of the claimant’s rights of freedom of expression and belief, Smith v Trafford Housing Trust  EWHC 3221 (Ch), Mr Justice Briggs ruled that Trafford Housing Trust had wrongly found Smith guilty of gross misconduct, before demoting him and reducing his salary by 40 per cent, following his Facebook comments about gay marriage. The BBC reported here.
“it marks the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, when 32 journalists and media workers were murdered. The goal of the Day is to achieve justice for those persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression by drawing global attention to the issue of impunity”.
A “culture of impunity” review of 2011 can be found here.
The Principal of St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, south-west London, has abandoned legal action against the editor of Independent Catholic News (ICN) who said she was not prepared to name the author of a letter which had appeared on her website. The Tablet reports here; PA Media Lawyer here.
“had complied with 64% of the 1,425 requests the UK had made between January and June this year for information about Google users. The requests related to 1,732 individual users or accounts“.
Defamation claims account for 39% of the country content removal requests since July 2010, Google said.
Last Friday the Daily Mail ran a twelve page “special investigation” on Sir David Bell, an assessor on the Leveson Inquiry and chair of Common Purpose, which prompted stories in the Sun and the Daily Telegraph. Roy Greenslade commented here; Michael White here; The Week reported here. The Week also has a useful round up of the reaction on Twitter and news sites here. The New Statesman published a humorous take on the Mail’s claims of a “quasi-masonic nexus” here.
The Sun was criticised for its presentation of a poll on the public’s attitude towards media regulation by Hacked Off (reported in Independent here). Separately, the Zelo Street blog took issue with a ‘Free Press Poll’ by Survation, commissioned by the Free Speech Network [pdf] (and reported by the Independent here).
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
The BBC has issued
“an unreserved apology for a Newsnight report which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated in the alleged sexual abuse of children at north Wales care homes“.
As noted above, McAlpine will receive a payment of £185,000 plus costs in settlement, with the terms of the agreement to be announced in court.
Peter Cruddas, former co-treasurer of the Conservative Party, has accepted a substantial donation to charity in settlement of a libel action over the Independent’s claim that he was willing to accept an illegal donation to party funds, which referenced allegations published in the Sunday Times. PA Media Lawyer reported:
“The Independent said it completely accepted, in line with the conclusions of Scotland Yard, that there was no evidence of any criminal conduct on the part of Mr Cruddas, either directly or by implication, and also acknowledged that at no time was he under formal investigation by the Metropolitan Police“.
Lois Cole-Wilson, counsel for Independent Print Ltd, said the newspaper wished “to express their very great regret that they gave publicity to these highly damaging allegations, and wish to express their sincere apologies both to Mr Cruddas and to his family for having made them“. Cruddas has launched a separate legal claim against the Sunday Times.
Journalism and regulation
There have been no new adjudicated PCC complaints since 1 November. Resolved complaints include: Dr Julia Birchard v Daily Mail, Clause 1, 15/11/2012; Mr Derek Dick v The Scotsman, Clause 1, 13/11/2012; A man v the Spectator, Clause 1, 12/11/2012.
The latter complaints concerns a columnist’s claim that a “BTEC in how to claim the dole” existed. The complainant countered that
“one optional task, in one optional section, in one optional module of a Certificate of Personal Effectiveness involved assessing which benefits the student would be entitled to if unemployed, and then discussing how they would feel it they were in that situation, or producing an information sheet to help others in that situation“.
According to the PCC:
The complaint was resolved when the magazine published a further article in which the columnist acknowledged that his previous claim was a “straightforward exaggeration” and explained the basis of his comment, clarifying that this element of the qualification was a non-mandatory option from a wide choice of tasks.
Although this resolved complaint does not name the columnist, Spectator columnist Toby Young made the same claim on 22 September 2012, and ‘put the record straight’ at length here. Fullfact unpicked Young’s claim at this link which it said followed “years of coverage in the Mail and from the Prime Minister earlier this year“.
The PCC also released new guidance on “privacy and the public domain” following the publication of the Prince Harry Las Vegas photographs in August, although the Commission did not specifically investigate this case. It important, said Charlotte Dewar, Head of Complaints and Pre-publication services, that editors understand that “caution needs to be used whenever they are considering publishing potentially intrusive material, even if it has previously been published elsewhere – and particularly if the previous publication has occurred without the individual’s consent“. The Guidance is available here.
Finally, a radio adaptation of the National Theatre of Scotland and London Review of Books production ‘Enquirer’ aired on Radio 4 last week; it will be available on iPlayer for four more days.
Research & resources
- Video: Lara Fielden talks about media regulation to UCL’s Constitution Unit
- Slides: Professor Lorna Woods spoke at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on14 November on ‘Freedom of expression and the internet’. Slides available here
- Radio: BBC Radio 4′s Moral Maze discusses ‘The Moral Code of Social Media’. Contributors include Jamie Bartlett, David Allen Green, Vicky Beeching and John Rentoul
- Paul Bernal, lecturer at University of East Anglia, has put together a layman’s guide on Twitter and defamation, following news that Lord McAlpine would pursue legal action against tweeters
- Professor Lilian Edwards, Strathclyde University, has advertised a PhD studentship which will look at the copyright and other legal implications of data mining.
In the Courts
On 12 November 2012 Tugendhat J heard applications in the case of O’Dwyer v ITV. Judgment was reserved.
The trial in the case of Mengi v Hermitage continued before Bean J. The court did not sit on 14 and 15 November 2012.
On 12 to 16 November 2012 HHJ Moloney QC heard the trial in the case of Gatt v Barclays Bank. Judgment was reserved.
David Walliams and his wife Lara Stone, were unsuccessful in their attempt to include a freelance photographer as a named defendant in an anti-harassment injunction application they brought against unknown people in 2010 (Stone & Anor v WXY (Person Or Persons Unknown)  EWHC 3184 (QB) (12 November 2012, hearing 30 October 2012)). The Independent reports here.
Tugendhat J has held that the meaning attributed to the words complained of in Fox v Boulter are capable of bearing a defamatory meaning. He also gave the defendant permission to amend the particulars of claim to include a claim for an innuendo meaning. Harvey Boulter is being sued by former defence secretary Dr Liam Fox (Fox v Boulter  EWHC 3183 (QB) (13 November 2012, hearing 8 November 2012)).
On 15 November 2012 Tugendhat J heard applications relating to costs in the case of Joseph v Spiller. Judgment was reserved.
19 November 2011, all day, Media and War: challenging the consensus, Goldsmiths University, London.
19 November 2012, The Poetry of Free Expression: Celebrating 40 years of Index on Censorship, Index on Censorship / Poet in the City. King’s Place, London.
19 November 2012, 5:30pm to 7pm. More News is Good News: Democracy & Media in India. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.
19 November, 7pm, Open Rights Group London: ‘Social media prosecutions after the TwitterJokeTrial’, The Angel, London.
20 November 2012, 5-8 pm, JUSTICE event: Life and Law Online: Defamation, freedom of expression and the web. Hunton & Williams, 30 St Mary Axe, London EC3A 8EP.
22 November 2012, 18:30, What are we going to do about journalism? The role of higher education in the ‘crisis’ – Michael Bromley, City University London.
23 November, International Day to End Impunity, global.
25 November 2012, 2.30pm to 6pm, John Smith Memorial Mace 2012: Media Regulation Debate (Parliament Week), The English Speaking Union. London
26 November, 6pm, Law Society Public Debate Series: Leveson Report, Law Society, London.
28 November, 1pm, ‘There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press … And We Need One More Than Ever’ – Mick Hume, Centre for Media & Culture Research, London South Bank University (details/registration via email)
28 November 2012, 6pm ‘CEL Annual Lecture 2012: Media Freedoms & Media Standards’, Baroness Onora O’Neill, London.
29 November 2012, all day, IBC Legal: 6th annual Social Media and the Law, London.
29 November 2012, 6pm, Reporting 21st Century conflict – a panel discussion and book launch, City University London.
29 November 2012, 7pm, The Future of Journalism panel, University of Huddersfield.
Know of any media law events happening in the autumn/winter? Please let Inforrm know: email@example.com.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
On 12 November 2012 judgment was given in Trkulja v Google Inc LLC (1) Google Australia Pty Ltd (2)  VSC 533 with $AUD200,000 damages awarded. On Inforrm, Polly Wilkins provided some context with a comment on the earlier case of Trkulja v Yahoo! Inc LLC & Anor ( VSC 88): after the jury had made findings on liability, Kaye J awarded damages of Aus$225,000 against the search engine Yahoo!.
A law student based in Salzberg is campaigning to get Facebook to change the ways it controls personal data and is seeking funds for a multi-year legal battle. ArsTechnica reports that: over the last year,
“[Max] Schrems has encouraged tens of thousands of Facebook users worldwide to request copies of whatever data Facebook holds on each of them, as he has done“.
The Times of India reports: A trial court has
“issued summons against senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh in a criminal defamation case lodged by BJP President Nitin Gadkari after it found ‘prima facie’ evidence to proceed against the politician“.
The Steptoe Cyberblog has an interesting legal debate on hacking, which asks: “Can the victims of hacking take more action to protect themselves? Can they hack back and mete out their own justice?” Debaters include Stewart Baker, Orin Kerr, and Eugene Volokh.
Next week in the courts
The trial in Mengi v Hermitage will continue before Bean J.
On Tuesday 2o November 2012 Tugendhat J will give judgment in the case of Abbey v Evening Standard, heard 30 and 31 October and 1 November 2012.
Next week in Parliament
- Tuesday 20 November, 3.15pm, House of Lords Communications select committee. Subject: Media Convergence, Witness(es): (at 3.30pm) Ms Jane Turton, Director of Business Development & Business Affairs, and Deputy Chief Executive, All 3 Media; Mr Wil Stephens, Founder, Cube Interactive, and Pact Council Member; and (at 4.30pm) Mr Hugo Lindsay, Director of Regulatory Affairs, Virgin Media.
Location: Committee Room 2, Palace of Westminster
- Wednesday 21 November, 3pm, Legislation – Justice and Security Bill [HL] – Report stage (Day 2) – Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Main Chamber, House of Lords
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Miller v Associated Newspapers heard 21 to 25 May 2012 (Sharp J)
Iqbal v Mansoor, heard 31 October 2012 (Rix, Etherton and Lewison LJJ)
Coulson v NGN heard 8 November 2012 (Laws, Sullivan and McCombe LJJ)
O’Dwyer v ITV, heard 12 November 2012 (Tugendhat J)
Joseph v Spiller (c0sts), heard 15 November 2012 (Tugendhat J)
Also on Inforrm last week
- The Leveson Inquiry and the BBC – Brian Cathcart
- Case Law: Joseph v Spiller, Are Nominal Damages Appropriate When the Court is Deceived? – Hugh Tomlinson QC
- Journalisted weekly, week ending 11 November 2012, Obama, Dorries and Entwistle
- The Free Speech Network: Corporate Media Close Ranks – Justin Schlosberg
- Case Law, Strasbourg: Peta Deutschland v Germany, the only people really not allowed to mention the Holocaust – Rosalind English
- Who is talking about statutory CONTROL of the Press – Mike Jempson
- Lord McAlpine and libel reform – Gavin Phillipson
- Libel damages and Lord McAlpine: did the BBC pay too much?
- Opinion: Twitter, Twit… Writ? – Dominic Crossley
- Case Law, Strasbourg: Szima v Hungary, Trade Union Freedom of Expression – Dirk Voorhoof
- Leveson: “Disturbing Questions” and the Daily Mail’s Desperation
- Case Law, Australia: Trkulja v Yahoo! – damages awarded against search engine operator – Polly Wilkins
- The real fifth column: News International – Brian Cathcart
This week’s Round Up was compiled for Inforrm by Judith Townend, a freelance journalist and PhD researcher examining legal restraints on the media, who runs the Meeja Law blog. She is @jtownend on Twitter. Please send suggestions, tips and event listings for inclusion in future round ups to firstname.lastname@example.org.