In the first of what we hope will be a regular feature we draw attention to the last weeks 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. We are particularly interested in forthcoming events which might be of interest to Inforrm participants.
Perhaps the biggest story in “law and media” in the last week was the entirely predictable decision by Justice Secretary Jack Straw – ever sensitive to the concerns of the media – to cut the maximum success fee in “publication” cases from 100% to 10%. This was announced in the Response to the Consultation Paper on 3 March 2010. Mr Straw followed this up with a press release in which he said
“Reducing the success fees charged by lawyers in no-win, no-fee defamation cases will help level the playing field so that scientists, journalists and writers can continue to publish articles which are in the public interest without incurring such disproportionate legal bills. This is particularly important for ensuring open scientific exchange and protecting the future of our regional media, who have small budgets but play a large role in our democracy”.
This is an interesting “spin” on CFA reform – in an area where, as far as we are aware, no claims have been brought against scientists by claimants acting on CFAs but, rather, scientists have been defended by lawyers acting on CFAs (for example, in the Singh and Thomsen cases) – so the reform will actually help to stifle scientific debate!
At least the announcement got Mr Straw some helpful pre-election praise from the “Daily Mail” in a page 2 article headed “Victory for Press Freedom as Jack Straw slashes libel lawyer fees”
The general media confusion about this measure is exemplified by Mr Singh’s piece in the “Guardian” “A little way on libel reform” on 3 March 2010. Mr Singh seems unaware of the fact that limiting success fees to 10% is likely to mean the end of individuals (like himself) facing libel actions from wealthy claimants being able to find lawyers to represent them on CFAs. It is a victory for the large media corporations.
Meanwhile, the “Guardian” reports that, as a result of a campaign by Mr Singh’s supports, 25% of all chiropracters in the United Kingdom are under investigation for making misleading claims in advertisements.
On 3 March 2010 the Financial Times published a thoughtful piece by legal correspondence Michael Peel about libel law reform under the rater awkward title “Agog at the Gag”.
Meanwhile, in the British Journalism Review, investigative journalist Bruce Page considers the calls for libel law reform and considers that they might be misguided (see this piece on the British Journalism Review blog). The full article is here.
The Media Guardian reported the libel victory of broadcast Sir Michael Parkinson in his claim against the Daily Mail. A Statement in Open Court was read. In a press statement afterwards Sir Michael Parkinson said he considered it standard practice and a “matter of common decency” for a newspaper to apologise publicly and promptly when a mistake is made.
“In this case, it should not have taken nine months nor been so difficult for the editor to apologise promptly. Moreover I believe that the persistent delaying tactics of the Daily Mail were both unattractive and unworthy of a national newspaper. At a time when the media is seeking greater freedom, I think it is counterproductive for a newspaper to behave in this way.”
Norwich City Football Club accepted a settlement a “five figure sum” in a libel action against the “News of the World” over an allegation that it was in financial trouble (see the story in the Press Gazette here)
The conviction of an atheist cartoonist for “religiously aggravated harassment” for placing grossly offensive religious images in a prayer room at Liverpool’s John Lennon airport has led the National Secular Society to suggest that the offence of blasphemy is back – see this report on the mediawatchwatch Blog.
The Media Standards Trust held a seminar on 1 March 2010 entitled “Is there an alternative to the current system of press self-regulation?”, Chaired by Lord Falconer. There is a report of the seminar here.
The Director of the Media Standards Trust, Martin Moore, has an interesting on “Michael Foot and the Reform of the Press” on the Trust’s blog.
The well known law firm Withers were found to be in contempt of Parliament for seeking an undertaking from an MP not to repeat in the House or elsewhere allegedly defamatory comments about one of its clients made in a Liberal Democrat leaflet. There is a report in the Law Society Gazette here.
Next Weeks Events
On 10 March 2010 Mr Justice Eady will deliver the inaugural lecture for the new City University Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism under the title “Protecting Free Speech in the Context of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
On 11 March 2010 , “Lawyers and Journalists – Natural Bedfellows or enemies”, the Media Society and Stephenson Harwood. Chair 11 March 2010, Stephenson Harwood, St Paul’s Churchyward, 6.30pm. Chair Raymond Snoddy, former Media Editor, The Times/The Financial Times, Panel: Roger Graef – Criminologist and award winning film maker; David Leigh – Assistant Editor at The Guardian, with special responsibility for investigations; Mark Stephens – Partner, FSI, specialist in defamation and intellectual property; Nigel Tait – Carter Ruck, specialist in media litigation.
On 11 March 2010, in the unlikely spot of the “Emirates Airline Festival of Literature” David Taylor and Francis Wheen discuss the topic “You can’t libel the dead?”
And we should mention the “Big Libel Gig” on Sunday 14 March 2010. This is billed as “Stars of UK Comedy and Science Stand Up Against Unfair Libel Laws in West End Show”. We have already commented on the “Petition for Libel Reform” in an earlier post and will not repeat our sceptical views here.
In the courts, the Independent reports a hearing in the case of Jacqui Lait v Evening Standard, concerning an erroneous report relating to her parliamentary expenses in the following terms. Ms Lait announced on her website that she had instructed solicitors and that she was hopeful that the matter would be resolved shortly.
We understand that Eady J will be giving judgment in the case of Berezovsky v The Russian Television & Radio Broadcasting Ltd & anr, (heard 8-19 February 2010) on Wednesday 10 March 2010.
In the Courts
We mention the following reserved High Court judgments in media cases:
Buturina v Times Newspapers Ltd, heard 4-5 February 2010
Budu v British Broadcasting Corporation, heard 9-10 February 2010
Dee v Telegraph Media Group Ltd, heard 24-25 February 2010
Hughes v Risbridger & anr, heard 1-3 March 2010
The following Court of Appeal judgments are awaited:
British Chiropractic Association -v- Singh, heard 23 February 2010 (Judge LCJ, Neuberger MR, Sedley LJ)
Independent News and Media Limited v. DP (By his Litigation Friend The Official Solicitor), heard on 24 February 2010 (Judge LCJ, Neuberger MR and Potter P).