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.
The media story of the week was the revived News of the World phone hacking saga. This was the result of a quality piece of investigative journalism in the New York Times, initially published in the paper and now in the Magazine under the title “Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond“. The original story was reported in the Press Gazette.
The matter was then picked up by the Guardian – which was interested in the “Andy Coulson” angle: “Andy Coulson discussed phone hacking at the News of the World, report claims” – and by the Financial Times. The following day the story attracted the attention of the Independent. As the Spectator blog noted on Friday a number of former Labour ministers “turned up the heat” on Mr Coulson. Lord Prescott repeated calls he made in 2009 for an official inquiry into the allegations in an interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. On the same day the Media Standards Trust joined the calls for an independent judicial inquiry. The Mail noted the call from former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, for a new police enquiry.
The story then began to spread across the “Twittersphere”: with two alternative “hash tags” – #Metgate and #Hackgate – for the unfolding story. David Allen Green (the blogger formerly known as “Jack of Kent”) has a post on the importance of “Metgate”.
Further revelations followed. On Saturday the Independent reported that former culture secretary Tessa Jowell’s phone had been hacked 28 times. Lord Prescott told the Observer that he was “furious” over documents which showed he was linked to the hacking scandal. The Independent on Sunday reported that Lord Mandelson was also a target. The News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times have not commented on the case in their columns.
Former Guardian editor Peter Preston writing in the Observer has an interesting take on story under the headline “Is phone hacking cricket?”
“The News of the World invites a kicking when it gets it wrong, and (like other papers) blundered into a hacking culture years ago: but it also needs applause when it gets it right”
There is also a discussion on the Tabloid Watch blog. Finally, Kevin Marsh has a thoughtful piece on the BBC College of Journalism blog under the headline “News of the World and the scalp hunt” – making the point that the whole story should not be reduced to a hunt for Andy Coulson’s scalp.
Before all this broke it was reported that former MP George Galloway was bringing legal action against the “News of the World”. It seems likely that this will not be the last legal action brought as a result of the “hacking” of the telephones of public figures.
The other media legal story of the week concerned the failed application by the BBC for an injunction to restrain the disclosure of the identity of “The Stig”. On 1 September 2010 Morgan J refused the application and indicated that judgment would be given at a later date. The story is reported bythe BBC, the Press Gazette and The Guardian. Afua Hirsch has a blogpost arguing that the BBC should not have sought an injunction to restrain freedom of speech. The “Mail on Sunday” has the “backstory” about the author of the book.
There has been some discussion in the media on the subject of libel tourism following a survey by Sweet & Maxwell suggesting that only 3 of 83 defamation lawsuits brought in the last year were examples of “libel tourism”. In a characteristically balanced piece headed “Doubts over ‘libel tourism’ fuel debate” the Financial Times reports that
Defamation defence specialists privately say some reformers’ claims about the size of the libel tourism problem are exaggerated, although they add that abuses do exist”
The issue was also discussed in “Legal Week”. It should be noted that although libel reform campaigners are said to have criticised the Sweet & Maxwell methodology no details have been given. In fact, the criticism should be that they have exaggerated the “libel tourism” figures – the three cases they mention include claims by British residents Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich against foreign publications which were also published in England. We have argued in the past that such cases are not examples of “libel tourism” at all – the claimant not have come to this jurisdiction “on tour”. If a “libel tourism” case is one in which a foreign claimant sues a foreign defendant in the English courts to take advantage of favourable libel laws the true number of tourism cases last year appears to have been zero.
Finally, on privacy, our attention has been drawn to an article by David Allen Green in the New Statesman on 17 August 2010 suggesting that Lord McNally may be wrong to suggest legislating on privacy law. He expresses the view that “the courts have done a generally good job in developing privacy from the legislative tools already provided by parliament”. We agree.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
In the entertaining New South Wales case of Ray Chesterton v Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Ltd ( NSWSC 982) the defendant had, inter alia, said that the plaintiff was called “Ankles, for very good reason”. The jury accepted that this meant that the plaintiff was a “despicable person”, the trial having been “conducted on the basis that the term “Ankles” is a colloquial term meaning “a despicable person (lower than a cunt)” . The judge – who was considering defences and damages – rejected the defence of “reply to attack” and awarded damages of Aus$90,000. There is a news story about the case in the Sydney Morning Herald.
From the Blogs
The Cearta.ie blog draws attention to new appointments to the Press Council of Ireland and discusses the PCC Governance review. The blog also has an interesting discussion of recent Article 10 cases in the Court of Human Rights involving Turkey. The Strasbourg Observers blog has a follow up to its post on Aksu v Turkey – which we mentioned last week.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post.
No events have been reported to us.
Next Week in the Courts
We are not aware of any media law cases listed for next week.
The following reserved judgments remain outstanding:
Clift v Slough BC heard 23 and 24 June 2010 (Ward, Thomas and Richards LJJ).
Hamptons International Dubai LLC & anr v Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors heard 23 July 2010 (Eady J)
Spiller v Joseph heard 26 and 27 July 2010 (Lords Phillips, Rodger, Walker and Brown and Sir John Dyson)