We have already blogged the imminent publication of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on Press Standards, Privacy and Libel. This Report is likely to contain a number of criticisms of the media and to be the subject of some leaking and spinning.
Readers of media reports about the recommendations of the committee will need to be especially vigilant if any aspects of the report involve serious criticism of the media. These will risk being lost when more “media friendly” recommendations are being discussed.
So far we have had three “previews” of the report. First, the Times legal correspondent, Frances Gibb, has had a preview of the Report and deals with both “pro” and “anti” media points. Her article in the Times on 19 February has the headline “Media watchdog needs ‘radical shake-up’ but should not be abolished, MPs argue” along with the sub-heading “Report demands ban on suing companies for libel”.
According to her article, the Report will say, amongst other things, that:
- The PCC needs a radical shake-up to turn it into a body that is proactive, rigorous and is taken seriously by the public – it is suggested that it should be given power to halt the printing of newspapers and to impose large fines.
- There should be no requirement that privacy stories should be notified to the subjects in advance (as proposed by Max Mosley)(for a recent post on this application see here).
- Businesses with more than 10 employees should lose the right to sue for libel.
Second, there is the report in the Press Gazette which headlines the third, “pro-media” point in a report under the headline “Report: MPs to call for ban on companies suing for libel”.
The precise terms of this last proposal are not clear but any complete “ban” on proceedings would give rise to serious human rights concerns. There is no doubt that companies have Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and these may well extend to rights to reputation. If so, a company would also have an Article 6 right to access to court in order to obtain a determination as to whether its reputation had been wrongly interfered with and any statute which prevented this would be incompatible with the Convention.
Third, today’s Independent on Sunday has a report by Matthew Bell under the lightly punning headline “Screws tighten on ‘News of the World’ in damning MPs report”. It is suggested that the Report’s findings will have damaging implications for “News International, the Conservative party, the Metropolitan Police, the Press Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Information Commissioner”. According to Mr Bell:
“The report finds against them and for The Guardian,” confirms the source, referring to the newspaper’s claim that unlawful practice had been “endemic” at the NoW, contrary to News International’s defence that it was limited to a “rogue reporter””.
We will provide a full analysis of the Report when it is published.