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.
It is reported by the 5 RB website that the Supreme Court has proposed giving the “Times” permission to appeal in the case of Flood v Times Newspapers – on the condition that the “Times” agrees to pay Mr Flood’s costs in any event.
The case involves consideration of the operation of the “public interest” Reynolds defence and will be the third time this area has been considered by the highest court. We commented on the Court of Appeal decision at the time and other discussions of it can be found in the “Table of Recent Cases”. [Update 2] The decision, made on 30 November 2010 by Lords Hope, Brown and Mance, can be found on the list on the Supreme Court website.
More about defamation and Twitter, this time from Australia. The Journalism.co.uk website notes that the editor in chief of the “Australian”, Chris Mitchell, plans to sue journalism lecturer Julie Posetti for libel in relation to tweets she posted about comments made by former reporter for the Australian Asa Wahlquist while talking about working for the title at a Journalism Education Association Australia (JEAA) conference. The “Australian” itself notes comments by the well known barrister Matthew Collins (author of the The Law of Defamation on the Internet, 3rd Edn, December 2010) that such an action would be unremarkable
“There have been several disputes in Australia, none of which have reached court yet. We all get terribly excited about Twitter because it’s the latest medium, but defamation law is entirely medium neutral. It makes no difference if it’s a text message, a tweet or something said by the town crier in a town meeting. Although excitement surrounds the medium, it doesn’t throw up any novel challenges for the law.”
As might be expected, the fact that an editor is threatening defamation proceedings has produced widespread negative reaction. Professor of Journalism Mark Pearson has an article entitled “Why editors rarely sue for defamation“
The Press Gazette reports that NMT Medical, the American company which is suing a British cardiologist for libel over comments he made about its clinical trials has been ordered to pay £200,000 into the High Court as security for costs. There was a preview of the security for costs hearing, here.
The “Independent” has a profile of Mr Justice Eady – under the headline “Who is Mr Justice Eady? Inside the mind of Britain’s most controversial judge“. This goes over a lot of familiar ground as to the cases decided by Mr Justice Eady and the controversies over privacy law. Commenting on these attacks and on praise for Mr Justice Tugendhat, Desmond Browne QC is quoted as saying that it dangerous to paint one judge as “a white knight”:
“It’s simplistic and there’s a danger of affecting the objectivity of judges if they are treated either as objects of obloquy or of excessive admiration.“
Journalism and the PCC
The PCC is changing its rules on publishing corrections. The Editors’ Code Committee has changed Clause 1ii of the code, which covers accuracy, to now say:
“A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.”
The PCC Watch blog has a post entitled “How many times can newspapers make the same mistake before the punishment becomes meaningful?” pointing to a series of occasions on which the same complaint has been made, resolved, and then made again. PCC Watch rightly suggests that three questions arise:
- If a newspaper pays attention to resolved complaints, how does it continue to make the same error?
- How many times do newspapers have to make the same mistake before the PCC considers further action
- How does the PCC have a series of ever-stiffer penalties which ensure that newspapers comply with the code that they write.
Tabloid Watch has a hard hitting post about “Muslims and the Daily Star”- the only 3 front pages of that newspaper in the past month which were “wasted on the sex lives and family feuds of celebs, chefs and footballers” were hostile (and largely inaccurate) stories about Muslims.
In the Courts
We understand that the case of Freer v Routledge which we mentioned last week and which is presently being tried by Mr Justice Maddison and a jury in Court 13 of the Royal Courts of Justice is, in fact, a false imprisonment case. In other words, there has still been no libel jury trial in 2010.
On Wednesday 1 December 2010 the Supreme Court gave judgment in the case of Spiller v Joseph ( UKSC 53). In the Guardian Gill Phillips argued that the decision had “significant ramifications for the law on defamation”. The Press Gazette and the Independent took a similar view – as did Catherine Rhind on this blog. However, as the One Brick Court case comment points out the proposition from Lord Nicholls which was disapproved in the case was criticised in the latest editions of leading textbooks and Eady J expressly dissented from it in the course of the most comprehensive recent analysis of the defence in Lowe v Associated Newspapers  QB 580.
On 3 December 2010, Mrs Justice Sharp handed down judgment in the privacy case of XJA v News Group Newspapers ( EWHC 3174 (QB)). We will have a post on this later in the week.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
The Toronto Sun reports that in Quebec, the Court of Appeals has suspended a libel action by Quebcor against an executive of the broadcaster CBC pending a motion to have Justice Larouche removed from the case on the grounds of bias.
The Edmonton Journal reports that the court file in a libel case brought by the Mayor of Edmonton, Stephen Mandel, against campaign volunteer for his main challenger in the recent municipal election have been unsealed by an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge after an application by the newspaper and CBC.
Media Law Prof Blog draws our attention to an article by Matthew Nied “Damage Awards in Internet Defamation Cases: Reassessing Assumptions About the Credibility of Online Speech in the October 2010 issue of the Alberta Law Review.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post. We apologise for the delay in posting these round ups.
No events have been reported to us.
On 7 December 2010 at 7.30pm on ITV1: “Can You Keep a Secret”: Mary Nightingale charts the rise of super-injunctions, asking to what extent they protect privacy and limit Press freedom. The programme speaks to journalists and well-known figures, including former motor racing chief Max Mosley, who have been at the heart of the biggest newspaper stories in recent years.
Eoin O’Dell has a post on the Cearta.ie blog with the title “Offences to feeling and regulation of speech in a multicultural era” linking John Stuart Mill to what looks like an interesting recent article by Meital Pinto has recently proposed a way to sidestep this objection, in “What Are Offences to Feelings Really About? A New Regulative Principle for the Multicultural Era” (2010) 30 (4) Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 695-723.
Steven Price’s “Media Law Journal” blog has a second post on “Pike River Privacy” – the question as to whether the media approaches to the grieving families of those who died in the New Zealand mining disaster constituted a breach of their privacy rights. He suggests that, on the New Zealand approach (in contrast to that in England) invasive intrusions on privacy might not be actionable.
Next Week in the Courts
On Monday 6 December 2010, Mr Justice Tugendhat will hear an application in the case of Etherington v Associated Newspapers Ltd
[Update 2] On Thursday 9 December 2010, the Court of Appeal will hand down judgment in the case of Clift v Slough BC (on appeal from  EWHC 1550 (QB))
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Clift v Slough BC heard 23 and 24 June 2010 (Ward, Thomas and Richards LJJ).
Bowker v Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, heard 21 October 2010 (Sharp J).
Cambridge v Makin, heard 8 to 12 November 2010 (Tugendhat J)
Pritchard Englefield & anr v Steinberg heard 19 November 2010 (Eady J)
Wallis & anr v Meredith heard 29 November and 1 December 2010 (Christopher Clarke J)
Smith v ADVFN Plc & ors heard 3 December 2010 (Tugendhat J)