Law and Media Roundup, 15 May 2010

15 05 2010

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.

News

The aftermath of the General Election continues to dominate the news and many blogs this week.   Roy Greenslade’s blog has a survey entitled “Coalition Day Three: What the Papers Say“.  Charlie Beckett has an interesting post on the Coalition’s approach to political communication: “Goodbye to Spin and Split?”

The media coverage of the election has produced a lot of adverse comment.  Martin Moore’s blog has an “Election coverage stats special”.  This is the analysis of “The slogans”

“Gordon Brown’s manifesto pledge of a ‘future fair for all’ made it into only 82 articles. By contrast, David Cameron’s pitch for a ‘big society’, though it may not have convinced the columnists or a majority of the electorate, was referred to in 480 news articles (almost 400 more than his other pledge to help the ‘great ignored’, referred to in 91 articles). ‘Old politics’, a favourite phrase of Nick Clegg, was mentioned in 168 articles“.

The Spy Report has a post on the Coalition and Media Policy.  It is suggested that there is common ground on the Reform of the BBC and of libel laws, but unresolved issues on the Digital Economy Act, regional news and the powers of Ofcom.

One of the Coalition Agreement’s provisions promises a “Freedom or Great Repeal Bill” – we assume that the disjunctive concerns the name rather than the type of bill involved.  There is a “Wiki Drafted” Great Repeal Bill, in response to a book by two Conservative Politicians – it includes the Human Rights Act in its legislative slaughter.  It provides an interesting illustration of the type of areas that some members of the Conservative Party are thinking about.

In the courts, Mr Justice Eady struck out a claim by Conservative blogger Johanna Kaschke against fellow blogger David Osler on the grounds of abuse of process.  We have already posted on this case.  It is reported by Outlaw.  Both parties to the action being bloggers they have given us their immediate reactions to the judgment.  Mr Osler has a post entitled “Johanna Kaschke: the strange case of the Tory ‘suspected of links to left wing extremists’“.  Ms Kaschke has a torrent of posts on the case, the most recent of which is entitled “Victims of Terror Unite” which calls on victims of terror to unite “against this very liberal ruling of Mr Justice Eady“.

Jack of Kent (who was involved in assisting Mr Osler’s defence) describes the case as a “Splendid Victory – but a Libel Fail“.  He points out that the post was not actionable in the first place but suggests that the case is a “fail for English libel law” and urges support for the Libel Reform Campaign.  This is difficult to follow.  There is nothing in the Libel Reform proposals to stop people bringing misconceived libel actions – this is always going to happen whatever laws are in place.  The way to help people like the unfortunate Mr Osler is to ensure that proper legal advice and assistance is available to those who need it – whether through pro bono help (which is available in libel cases from, for example, the Bar Pro Bono Unit) or, by proper use of CFAs.   Access to justice is important for everyone but the abuses of the few cannot be dealt with by restricting access to court for everyone else.   It seems to us that the main lesson of the case is that bloggers should avoid suing each other for libel.

The case of the musical prodigy Derek Paravinici was heard by Mr Justice Hedley in the Court of Protection in the presence of authorised media representatives who were permitted to report what had taken place, a “first” for the Court of Protection.  We had a post about the case – it is also reported by the Press Gazette.

Barry George, who was cleared of murdering TV presenter Jill Dando after spending seven years in jail has won libel damages from MGN over claims in the People, the Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mirror website that he was obsessed with singer Cheryl Cole and newsreader Kay Burley.  The settlement is reported by the BBC and by Reuters.

There were also libel settlements announced on both sides of the border in Ireland.  In Northern Ireland, property developer Frank Boyd accepted £30,000 in libel damages from the Sunday World newspaper.  In the Irish Republic, a libel action by a lecturer from Galway Mayo Institute of Technology against the Head of the School of Business for a libel in an email was settled.

From the Blogs

The Cearta.ie blog notes our posting on right of reply and draws attention to an argument against such a right and in favour of self-regulation.  We think that this is a good idea in principle but the practicalities are, unfortunately, different.  Cearta.ie also mentions an important new book, Freeing Speech: the Constitutional War over National Security by John Denvir, Research Professor of Constitutional Policy at the University of San Francisco School of Law

The Enemies of Reason blog has a characteristically strongly expressed piece about the intrusive and insensitive reporting of a suicide attempt by the “Daily Mail”.

The Blog Law Blog reports a forthcoming Texas challenge to the state’s law prohibiting electronic and telephonic harassment is unconstitutionally overbroad, violating the First Amendment.

The ACLU Blog of Rights suggests a Facebook revolt may be at hand over what is describe’s as the company’s “cavalier attitude toward protecting” privacy.  The Electronics Frontier Foundation has an interesting analysis of the evolution of Facebook’s privacy policy over the past 5 years concluding (perhaps unsurprisingly) that

“Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information”.

The Pogo was Right blog draws attention to a new website “exposing embarrassing and potentially job-threatening Facebook messages posted by users who probably don’t realize their privacy settings are turned off”, this is called “Openbook” and is designed to warn Facebook users about privacy naivety.

US Law and Media News

We had a post on Supreme Court nominee’s writings on the law of libel.  The US Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press has now produced a 9 page “Summary of the media law background” of Ms Kagan. The report finds that

“Elena Kagan has worked on free-speech and free-press issues more than any recent high court nominee, but her writings tend to explore the underpinnings of current doctrines and standards, rather than argue for or against any particular approach. She has also expressed skepticism with how workable the ‘actual malice’ libel standard and a reporter’s privilege are, and whether those standards need to be reworked.”

The most widely publicised US free speech case of the last fortnight is not even treated as such by most of the US media.  It concerns the unfortunate Jennifer LaPenta (pictured right) who was imprisoned for two days for contempt for wearing a T shirt with the words “I have the pussy so I make the rules” in Court when attending for a friend’s case.  The US media and blogosphere were curiously tolerant of the judge’s approach.  In a post on the First Amendment Centre blog it is suggested that judge was not entitled to make the sentence without giving her an opportunity to replace the shirt.  It is now reported that Ms LaPenta intends to bring a civil claim against the Judge.  It seems to us highly unlikely that a person wearing such a T-shirt in an English court room would receive a sentence of imprisonment.

In the case of  Robert Willis v Elvin Maxwell 11-09-00275-CV the Texas Court of Appeals held that an official at Texas Tech University did not defame a student by repeating allegations that the student had pulled a gun on a classmate.  There is a news story about the case on the Courthouse News Service site.

In an echo of recent disputes in this jurisdiction, in the case of  C. Kaui Jochanan Amsterdam v. KITV 4 Television Station; Mike Rosenberg, General Mgr. (Case No. 10-00253), a Federal Court in Hawaii refused to grant an injunction to a Congressional candidate to prevent the airing of a televised political debate from which he was excluded.  There is a post about the case on the excellent Unruly of Law Blog.

A post on LTN Law Technology News discusses how New York Courts deal with electronic defamation looking at “opinion versus fact”, the Communications Decency Act and jurisdiction.

Media Cases from Other Jurisdictions

In Le Pen v. France (application no. 18788/09), the Court of Human Rights held that an application by Jean-Marie le Pen was inadmissible.  He had been fined 10,000 euros for “incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence towards a group of people because of their origin or their membership or non-membership of a specific ethnic group, nation, race or religion”, as a result of account of statements he had made about Muslims in France in a newspaper interview in which he said, among other things, that “the day there are no longer 5 million but 25 million Muslims in France, they will be in charge”.  The judgment is available only in French but there is a Press Release in English and a post about the case on the ECHR Blog (one of our Guardian Legal Network partners).

In the case of Jones v Lee, a New Zealand defamation jury has awarded a “property tycoon”, Sir Robert Jones, NZ$104,000 (£51,000) over an article which suggested that he had inflated his company’s assets to increase his management fee.  The New Zealand Herald reported the trial and the verdict.

Events

No relevant events in the next week have been drawn to our attention.

Next Week in the Courts

On Monday 17 May 2010, the jury trial in the case of His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj v Singh will begin.  The case is discussed in the Times as an example of libel tourism because the claimant is based in India.  But the publication was, as we understand it, in England – which seems to be the obvious forum for a claim rather than an English publication being forced to defend itself in the courts in India.   We will post further about this case when more information is available.

Judgment in the case of Hays PLC v Hartley, heard 5 to 6 May 2010 (discussed in our post here) will be handed down on Monday 17 May 2010.

The appeal in Khader v Aziz and Davenport Lyons, (on appeal from [2009] EWHC 2027 (QB)) will be heard on 18 or 19 May 2010 by Sir Anthony May P, Carnwath and Moore-Bick  LJJ

The pre trial review in Fiddes v Channel 4, takes place before Tugendhat J on 20 and 21 May 2010.

Reserved Judgments

The following reserved judgments in media cases remain outstanding:

Shovell v Adventis Group, heard 19 to 27 April 2010 (Sir Charles Gray)

Imerman v Tchenguiz (and linked appeals), heard 10 to 11 May 2010 (Master of the Rolls, Moses and Munby LJJ)

Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe SAS v Asda Stores Limited, heard 11 to 12 May 2010 (Sedley and Rimer LJJ and Sir Scott Baker)

Brady v Norman, heard 13 May 2010 (Eady J)


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