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 reporting priorities of the British press are helpfully analyzed every week by the Media Standards Trust “Journalisted” website. For the week ending Sunday 12 September 2010 Wayne Rooney’s private life was the most reported story, followed by news of the Pope’s visit, Koran burning threats and pressure on Andy Coulson following ‘hackgate’.
Journalisted’s analysis for that week was as follows:
- Wayne Rooney, the Manchester United and England footballer, who was reported to have slept with two prostitutes, 464 articles
- The Pope, due to make an official visit to the UK, 190 articles
- Andy Coulson, who ignored calls to stand down as No. 10 head of communications despite new allegations of phone hacking while he was editor of the News of the World, 189 articles
- The threat of an American pastor to burn the Koran, 186 articles
The Press Complaints Commission has attracted a number of stories this week. In the wake of the “News of the World” phone hacking story a number of commentators have called for its replacement by a statutory regulator. We have already posted on this issue. The “Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom” website does not call for statutory regulation but calls for the PCC’s abolition of the PC. His analysis is damning
“The PCC’s real function is not to judge complaints, which it does on very few. No, its job is to settle them. It calls this “mediation”, which consists of bullying or otherwise cajoling hapless complainants into accepting the minimum grudging redress the paper can get away with. “It’s this or nothing”, they are told, leaving them with little choice: take it or go to law.
In effect, the PCC is an outsourced customer services department. It does the editors’ dirty work for them – which explains the apparent contradiction that the papers are so very keen on a body that is supposed to discipline them”.
[Update] The PCC was debated at the Lib Dem conference on 19 September 2010. The conference voted overwhelmingly for a motion calling on the government to
1. Make a clear commitment to reforming the PCC to make it independent of serving editors and give it more powers to take disciplinary action against editors whose publications breach the code.
2. Support the recommendation by the CMS select committee that the PCC should be renamed the Press Complaints and Standards Commission, and appoint a deputy director for standards.
3. Affirm their opposition to a privacy law that would restrict press freedom in Britain.
The PCC’s ruling on a complaint by TV presenter Clare Balding against the Sunday Times has been controversial. The PCC decided that references to the complainant’s sexuality in an article by A A Gill were a breach of the provisions of Clause 12 of the code. It drew attention to the fact that under this provision “newspapers must avoid prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant reference to (amongst other things) an individual’s sexual orientation“. The ruling is discussed on Jon Slattery’s journalism blog.
Roy Greenslade reluctantly disagrees with the ruling on the basis that journalists have the “right to be wrong”. This is difficult to follow: journalists certainly have the right to be wrong but they also have the duty to apologise and correct when they are wrong. A A Gill’s remarks were offensive and in breach of the code and the Sunday Times should not have sought to defend them. The Enemies of Reason blog rightly criticises him on this basis. The Tabloid Watch blog also welcomes the PCC ruling. It goes on to point out however, that the PCC’s stance on this issue is not entirely consistent
“only a few weeks ago, when two readers complained about the Sun’s use of ‘bender’ to refer to a gay man, the PCC hid behind its ‘third-party’ rule to ignore the complaint. It didn’t reject the complaint, it didn’t even consider it.
The “News of the World” voice mail hacking story is still in the news this week – although at a much lower level of intensity than last week. Lord Prescott announced his intention to pursue a judicial review claim against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
Carina Trimingham, a woman who had an affair with cabinet minister Chris Huhne, has launched a legal action against Associated Newspapers for invasion of privacy. She is seeking damages of more than £300,000 over eight stories that appeared in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday in June and July 2010 relating to her relationship Mr Huhne. The story is reported in the Press Gazette.
The relationship between the French president and the media continues to deteriorate with the daily “Le Monde” announcing that it intends to sue the Office of the President for unlawfully using the intelligence services to identify a source for its reporter Gérard Davet who had been investigating the “Bettencourt” affair. The story is covered on the Committee for the Protection of Journalists blog.
The much loved and much quoted media law pundit Mark Stephens suggested this week that Lord Lester’s Defamation bill will be “binned” and “killed” by the coalition government. Speaking at the “Blogger in the Dock” debate, organised by Index on Censorship at the Free Word Centre on 14 September 2010, he bet £50 that whatever the Government proposed on libel reform would be worse and much more astringent than that proposed by Lord Lester in his Bill. We lack Mr Stephens’ crystal ball but it seems to us that the Government is approaching these issues with an open mind.
Journalist and researcher Judith Townend has been carrying out some interesting research about the legal threats faced by small or independent online publishers. This has been published on her “Meeja and Law” blog. Of the 71 respondents to her survey 19 were contacted over a legal matter in the last two years (27 per cent), but only seven sought legal advice, which was paid for in four instances. The remaining 12 dealt with it alone.
In the Courts
In a Statement in Open Court made on Wednesday 15 September 2010 in the case of Holman v Suffolk County Council, the defendant apologised to the claimant for defamatory allegations circulated in a “rogue email” about a publishing company. The Council agreed to pay substantial damages and costs. The statement is reported in the Newmarket Weekly News and the East Anglian Daily Times.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
From Australia, there is an interesting report of disclosure issues concerning mobile phone records in a libel action brought against Radio Station 2UE and its former “shock jock” Steve Price by “former WAG” Charmyne Palavi-Browne.
In the case of Police v Slater (14 September 2010) the District Court in Auckland found that Whale Oil had been in breach of name suppression orders made by the Court. The case is discussed on the Media Law Journal blog under the title “A whale of a decision“.
It is reported that in India Mr Shanti Bhushan, a Former Law Minister and Senior Advocate, appeared before a Supreme Court Special Bench and alleged that 8 out 16 former Chief Justices of India were corrupt. This statement was made in an application for including him in a Contempt Case filed against his son Prashant Bhushan (also Senior Advocate of Supreme Court) for making in a media interview allegedly contemptuous statements against the integrity of Supreme Court Judges, including questioning the past judicial conduct of Justice S.H.Kapadia, who is also present Chief Justice of India, in the Vedanta Case.
In Canada the press reports that a website operator, John Kelly, has been arrested on charges of criminal libel after criticizing the conduct of a murder investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on his US based website. The police accused him of “pressing free speech too far”.
From the Blogs
A number of the blogs consider last week’s Court of of Human Rights Grand Chamber decision in Sanoma Uitgevers B.V. v. the Netherlands (discussed by us in a post last week). There is a very full “guest post” on the ECHR blog by Dutch media law expert professor Dirk Voorhoof of Ghent University. The case is also discussed on the Cearta.ie blog and by the “Strasbourg Observers“.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post.
[Update] Lib Dem Conference Event: Tuesday 21st September at 13.00 in ACC Hall 2L.Justice Minister, ‘Libel laws stifle debate: will the coalition stop the chill?’ Lord McNally, Evan Harris and libel reform campaigners will discuss how the Lib Dems led the way in the fight for free speech and libel reform and debate how the Government will deliver on its pledge at a party conference fringe event. See Lord Lester’s piece in “Liberal Democrat Voice”
Conference 5RB: Tuesday 21st September 2010, Venue: Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG – covering the latest developments in libel and privacy law with a cast of distinguished speakers.
Next Week in the Courts
On 21 September 2010 Thorpe and Smith LJJ will hear a renewed oral hearing for permission to appeal in the case of Kaschke v Osler. For the judgment at first instance see  EWHC 1075 (QB) – our Case Comment can be found here.
[Update] On 24 September 2010, the Doncaster Crown Court will hear the appeal in CPS v Chambers – the “Twitter joke case”. This is discussed on the Jack of Kent Blog – David Allen Green has run a powerful campaign against this remarkable prosecution.
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)
BBC v HarperCollins, heard 31 August and 1 September 2010 (Morgan J)
Thanks to Mr Benjamin Pell for drawing our attention to a number of matters to update this post.