The biggest media story of the week concerned the resignation of Peter Oborne, The Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator. His resignation letter attacked the paper’s management and owners over the coverage of the HSBC tax story, claiming they regularly suppressed stories about the bank in order to keep its valuable advertising account.
Oborne’s accusations have been backed up by anonymous sources, according to the Press Gazette. They have suggested that commercial pressure undermines editorial integrity within the paper and that HSBC seeks to influence editorial coverage. We had a post examining the accuracy of Oborne’s accusations from the MST’s Gordon Ramsay and pieces by Brian Cathcart and Des Freedman.
Roy Greenslade published an article outlining each of Oborne’s accusations in full, and calling for The Telegraph to answer them individually. However the Telegraph’s reaction has been to refute the accusations in their entirety as “full of inaccuracy and innuendo”. Instead of challenging each accusation individually, the paper has criticised its rivals. The Telegraph reported that the Guardian is “facing questions” over claims it altered a story about Iraq in order to appease Apple. The Telegraph continued with its accusations later in the week, linking the suicides of two News UK employees to commercial pressures within the company.
The Security Services have admitted to unlawfully monitoring legally privileged conversations for the past five years. UK intelligence agencies, including M15 and MI6, have been keeping track of conversations between lawyers and their clients and failing to comply with human rights laws.
The Government will introduce measures to prevent police access to journalists’ phone records without judicial oversight. The Government has rejected the Liberal Democrat amendment to the Serious Crime Bill, which would require police to get judicial approval for telecoms records requests involving journalists’ sources. However, they have promised to rush through interim measures to curb spying on journalists before May.
At the Sun Four Trial, the paper’s royal editor told the court that he stands by “every single one” of his stories and believes he has done nothing wrong. Duncan Larcombe is on trial over his dealings with then Colour Sergeant John Hardy, who was allegedly paid more than £23,700 for information about the royal family. Deputy Editor Geoff Webster denied ever knowing who reporter’s sources were. Mr Webster is accused of signing off payments for journalist John Kay’s source, who provided information for stories. He denies that Kay ever told him who his sources were or what they did as it was “just not done”.
A journalist may be forced to disclose his source after a woman who posted abusive tweets about the family of Madeleine McCann was found dead after being exposed. Sky News journalist Martin Brunt has been called to give evidence at the inquest into the death of Brenda Leyland, who was found dead three days after she was confronted as part of an expose by Brunt and Sky.
The Hawktalk blog argues that the Data Protection Regulation is likely to provide a lower level of protection than the current Data Protection Directive.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
There were no statements in open court this week.
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) has declared the Daily Express guilty of publishing a “significantly distorted” story claiming that Ukip was beating Labour in an opinion poll. The Express has published its adjudication and an explanatory footnote, but has yet to remove the offending headline.
Chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker will resume his duties at the Sun,after he was arrested, charged and tried under Operation Elveden. Parker was cleared of aiding and abetting a police officer to commit misconduct in a public office, but found guilty of handling a stolen mobile phone.
Print newspapers remain the most powerful form of media in Britain, according to Greenslade’s guest blogger Ed Amory. Print journalism in the UK has “retained its unique campaigning role, its ability to change the agenda, to frighten elites, to wield influence”.
Last Two Weeks in the Courts
On 10 and 11 February 2015, the libel case of Razzaq v Blackheath Jamia Moseque Trust and Others was heard by HHJ McKenna in the High Court in Birmingham. Summary judgment was given for the defendants. The claimant had made a very late application to plead malice in reply to the defendants’ plea of qualified privilege. That application was determined against the claimant. The Judge then held publication was privileged and gave judgment accordingly.
On 16 February 2015, HHJ Parkes QC handed down judgment in the libel case of Rai v Bholowasia  EWHC B2 (QB) (heard 19-23, and 26 to 27 January 2015). Damages of £50,000 were awarded to the claimant against the publishers of a newspaper circulating in Southall.
On 17 February 2015, the Court of Appeal (Moore-Bick P, Black and Lewison LJJ) gave judgment in the case of JX MX (A child proceeding by her Mother and Litigation Friend Mrs AXMX) v. Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust ( EWCA Civ 96). We had a post about the decision from David Hart QC.
On 18 February 2015, the Court of Appeal (Longmore, Ryder and Briggs LJJ) allowed the appeal of Mrs Levi in the case of Levi v Bates. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, the decision was announced with a judgment to be given later. The first instance decision was in 2012 – we had a case comment at the time.
On 20 February 2015, the Court of Appeal (McCombe and Sharp LJJ and Mitting J) gave judgment in the case of Rufus v Elliott ( EWCA Civ 121). They dismissed the defendant’s appeal against Dingemans J’s decision that the words complained of were capable of bearing a defamatory meaning.
On the same day Ouseley J gave judgment in the case of Traveller Movement v OFCOM ( EWHC 406 (Admin) dismissing the judicial review application arising out of a complaint about Channel 4’s “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings” series.
24 February 2015, “Does Privacy Matter?” Launch of IALS Centre for Law and Information Policy, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
4 March 2015: “Oxford Media Convention, IPPR” Said Business School, University of Oxford
29 April 2015 Advertising & Marketing Law Conference, IBC Legal Conferences, London
12 May 2015, IBC’s 22nd Annual Defamation and Privacy Conference, Grange City Hotel, London
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
Mining magnate Gina Rinehart intends to sue the Nine Network over the series House of Hancock despite being allowed to preview the second episode and cut sections from it. Her lawyers have described scenes as “offensive” and endeavouring to “question Mrs Rinehart’s sanity”.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is avoiding testifying in a libel lawsuit by invoking parliamentary privilege. Harper and his former director of communications, Jason MacDonald, are facing accusations of libel after allegedly linking the National Council of Canadian Muslims to Hamas.
The Irish Times reports that the Rehab Group has obtained an order joining its former chief executive Angela Kerins as a third party to defamation proceedings brought over its denial of claims by developer John Kelly that he gave various benefits to Ms Kerins.
Vivier Mortgages, the subprime lender formerly known as Home Funding Corporation, has brought defamation proceedings against RTÉ following a recent investigation into high interest home loans. A claim is also being brought by the owner of the company, the controversial South African, Luigi Wewege.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has denied offering millions of dollars to Foreign Minister Anifah Aman in order to bring down the ruling government in 2008. Anwar was testifying in court in a defamation suit against Mr Anifah this week, he described the allegations as “malicious” and “nasty”.
A Washington D.C based band is suing YouTube, after the website removed its music video. YouTube replaced the video with the lines “this video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service”. Rasta Rock Opera claims that this explanation gave the false impression they were “copyright infringers” or “pornographers”, and caused them to miss out on valuable opportunities.
WWE ringside physician Dr. Chris Amann has filed a defamation claim against CM Punk (Phil Brooks) and Colt Cabana (Scott Colton) for comments that were made on “The Art of Wrestling” podcast. Dr. Amann is seeking more than $1 million in compensatory damages and an undisclosed amount in punitive damages for comments that he claims “repeatedly and falsely impugned his integrity” as a doctor.
“Badass lawyer” Todd Levitt has lost a libel claim over the @levittlawyer parody Twitter feed. There is a report by Eugene Volokh in the Washington Post. The judgment in Levitt v Felton [pdf] was handed down by the Michigan Trial Court on 19 February 2015.
The Guardian reports that Hunter Moore, the self-styled king of “revenge porn” has pleaded guilty to charges of hacking and identity theft in a federal court in Los Angeles.
Research and Resources
- Freedom of Expression, (Northern Ireland) Rory O’Connell, Paul Mageean, SSR
- Finding the Lost Involuntary Public Figure, Jeffrey Omar Usman, Utah Law Review, No. 5, p. 951, 2014, SSRN
- A Contextual Approach to Privacy Online, Helen Nissenbaum, Daedalus 140 (4), Fall 2011: 32-48, SSRN
- Posner, Blackstone, and Prior Restraints on Speech, Ashutosh Avinash Bhagwat, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 417, SSRN.
- The Second Limb of Lange: The Continuing Uncertainties with the Implied Freedom of Political Communication, James Stellios, ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 14 -49, SSRN
- Hate speech social media bans may not be the answer – Open Rights Group
- Sex in the city: Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy when having sex with the lights on? The Public Privacy
- Don’t Get Sued! Libel, Slander and Defamation laws in Japan – Kaitlin Stainbrook
Next week in the courts
At 10.30am on Monday 23 February 2015 there will be a statement in open court in Pritchard v Thompson before Warby J.
The same judge will hear the PTR in Barry v Butler at 10.45am on the same day (adjourned from last week).
On 27 February 2015 there will be an application in the case of Sloutsker v Romanova (last before the Courts on 21 January 2015,  EWHC 81 (QB))
Our attention has been drawn to the forthcoming libel trial in the case of Paris and Garden v Lewis and Byng in the Swansea District Register on 16 to 20 March 2015 (this was not included in our Spring Term preview).
The following reserved judgment in media law cases are outstanding:
R (Evans) v HM Attorney-General, heard 24 and 25 November 2014 (UK Supreme Court)
OPO v MLA, heard 9 and 20 January 2015 (UK Supreme Court)
Murray v Associated Newspapers, heard 21 January 2015 (Longmore, Ryder and Sharp LJJ)
Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd, heard 4 February 2015 (Sir David Eady).
This Round Up was compiled by Tessa Evans, a journalist and researcher. She tweets @tessadevans