The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog

Law and Media – News and Events, 24 April 2010 [updated]

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. We are particularly interested in forthcoming events which readers are interested in publicising.


The week has seen sustained attacks from certain sections of the media on the suddenly popular Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg.    Tabloid Watch has an interesting piece on the media coverage under the headline “Hysterical bawlings from the sidelines,” referring to a post on the BBC College of Journalism blog “The Election and the Press” by Kevin Marsh.  The Guardian reports the story under the headline “Media attacks on Nick Clegg put pressure on the Conservatives”

We have already reported on the “Free Speech Hustings” this week.  The Press Gazette picked up on Dr Evan Harris’ comments on preventing libel actions by large corporations.  Index on Censorship’s Padraig Reidy reports on the event and draws attention to the poll of the audience which shows an overwhelming victory for the Lib Dems.  There is also a discussion of the event on the Culture Wars blog.

Perhaps the most remarkable libel story of the week concerns the threatened action by solicitors acting for Professor Orlando Figes in relation an allegation that he was responsible for anonymous online reviews attacking the works of fellow historians.   After various exchanges, Professor Figes then said the reviewer was his wife.  The Telegraph has a full account of the background up to 18 April 2010.  However, on Thursday the Professor confessed all, admitting that he was, indeed the mystery reviewer.  The Guardian reported this admission under the headline “The professor, his wife, and the secret, savage book reviews on Amazon“, recording that Orlando Figes had admitted writing the “poison pen reviews” himself.    Rather curiously one of the authors whose works had been savaged, Robert Service, took the opportunity to suggest that this whole episode showed that there were problems with the libel laws and “Legislative reform is urgently required”.  This is difficult to follow.  No conceivable reform is going to prevent someone instructing their solicitors to send unjustified letters of claim.

Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone has apologised and paid damages to a Labour colleague, Michael Keith, to the evident delight of Ken’s old foe, journalist Andrew Gilligan.

A Canadian libel action provides an interesting take on the “libel and science” debate.  A leading climate scientist, Andrew Weaver, has launched a libel action against a Canadian newspaper, the National Post, for publishing articles that he says “poison” the debate on global warming.  A copy of the Statement of Claim can be found here. The case is discussed in the Guardian.

Meanwhile in the Guardian Simon Singh comments that “On libel, the really big battle awaits”.  He suggests that

“there are two major reasons why those who care about scientific debate and free speech more generally need to maintain the pressure on politicians. First, there are major vested interests, such as large corporations, foreign billionaires and libel lawyers, who will attempt to scupper reform.  Second, any reform needs to be radical, not merely tinkering. There are several issues that need to be addressed, such as the current lack of a public interest defence, the unfair burden of proof on defendants, libel tourism and so on. And each problem needs to be tackled properly”.

We are sure that Mr Singh has not forgotten that “large corporations” have vested interests on both sides of the debate and that any reform needs to balance the rights of both claimants and defendants.

As an interesting footnote to Mr Singh’s case, there is an article dealing with the question of his “costs shortfall” – costs specialists “GWS” deal with the question of the gap between “standard costs” and the actual costs paid by a client to his solicitor.

[Update]  The Observer and the Independent report that another claim has been brought against the “News of the World” arising out of the “phone hacking” by Glenn Mulcaire, this time by football agent Sky Andrew.

From the Blogs

The Blog has an interesting discussion of the ban on political advertising in Ireland and its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.    The post does not mention the recent decision of the House of Lords on the subject (R (Animal Defenders International) v Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport [2008] UKHL 15) although in a comment Andrew Scott (of MediaPal@LSE blog) mentions that the case is going to Strasbourg.

The same blog notes that the Dail and the Senead have approved that second legilsation for the statutory recognition of the Irish Press Council under section 44 of the Irish Defamation Act 2009.

The Free Speech Law blog notes an interesting decision of the Supreme Court of Uganda awarding damages to journalists prevented by the police from reporting on an incident.

US Law and Media News

It is reported that a study in the United States has found that young people care about privacy just as much as older people but behave more recklessly online because they think the law gives them more protection than it actually does.  A copy of the study can be found here on SSRN.

In the case of Too Much Media v Hale the New Jersey ruled this week that blogger Shellee Hale was not a journalist entitled to protect confidential sources and newsgathering information under the State’s “shield law”.  The case is discussed on the Unruly of Law Blog

As we mentioned last week the US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of City of Ontario v Quon which concerns the question as to whether a government employer can review the contents of private text messages sent from an employee’s pager through a private communications company. A transcript of the oral argument can be found here. Full details of the case including all the court documents – with the briefs for petitioner, respondent and all the amicus briefs – can be found on the ScotUS Wiki.


No events have been drawn to our attention for the forthcoming week.

In the Courts

In the case of TUV v Persons Unknown [2010] EWHC 853 (QB) Eady J considered the circumstances in which the media had to be given notice of applications against “persons unknown” and the conditions under which material should be disclosed to the media.  We will deal with this case in a separate post.

On 21 April 2001, the Court of Appeal gave the claimant permission to appeal in the case of  North London Central Mosque v Policy Exchange [2009] EWHC 3311 (QB) which involves the interesting question as to whether an unincorporated body has sufficient legal personality to sue in libel.  The case is mentioned on the 5RB website news section.

[Update]   There was a hearing in the case of Kaschke v Osler on 23 April before Eady J.  This is an action between two bloggers of opposing political views.  The claimant, Johanna Kaschke has previously blogged about the court’s attitude to litigants in person (she had encountered judges who did not seem to like them).  Yesterday she blogged about the hearing on 23 April.   The defendant, David Osler, has given his version of the hearing on his own blog . She has also explained the background to her case.  Others have given slightly different views of the case (for example on the “modernity blog” and Andrew Coates).  Judgment was reserved.   Another case brought by Ms Kaschke was dealt with by Stadlen J on 29 March 2010, Kaschke v Gray [2010] EWHC 690 (QB)

The case of Baturina v Times Newspapers (see the decision of Eady J [2010] EWHC  696 (QB)) is the subject of a comment on the Hold the Front Page website by Nigel Hanson of solicitors Foot Anstey.

In the case of Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan (Judgment of 22 April 2010) the European Court of Human Rights held that the criminal convictions and imprisonment of a newspaper editor were violations of Article 10.  Most unusually, the Court of Human Rights indicated that the respondent State should secure the applicant’s immediate release.  This case is discussed on the Jurist site and that of the Committee to Protect Journalists

The following reserved High Court judgments in a media case remains outstanding:

Dee v Telegraph Media Group Ltd, heard 24-25 February 2010

Mireskandari v Associated Newspapers Ltd, heard 21 April 2010

Kaschke v Osler, heard 23 April 2010

Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan,Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan,

1 Comment

  1. theunrulyoflaw

    Thanks for the shout-out on the Too Much Media LLC v. Hale case.

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