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 “phone hacking” story dominated last week’s media and law news – again. Yesterday we rounded up the week’s news – with its arrests and “admissions”. On Sunday The News of the World published an apology about voicemail interception – it is set out below.
One of the most bizarre stories of the week concerns a secret tape recording made by actor Hugh Grant of former “News of the World” journalist Paul McMullan boasting of his phone hacking activities in the past. His account was published in the “News Statesman”. Among other things he records Mr McMullan as saying
Historically, the way it went was, in the early days of mobiles, we all had analogue mobiles and that was an absolute joy. You just sat outside Buckingham Palace with a £59 scanner you bought at Argos and get Prince Charles and everything he said. It started off as fun – you know, it wasn’t against the law, so why wouldn’t you? And it was only because the MPs who were fiddling their expenses and generally being corrupt kept getting caught so much they changed the law in 2001 to make it illegal to buy and sell a scanner.
There is also a report in the Press Gazette and an interesting discussion of the story by Christina Patterson in the Independent.
Today’s newspapers contain further revelations – with the “Guardian” claiming that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, blocked an attempt the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to hold a judicial inquiry into phone-hacking allegations on the grounds that it would be too sensitive before the general election. It has been suggested that there may be up to 7,000 phone hack targets.
The Master of the Rolls’ “Committee to examine ‘super-injunctions’” was established on 6 April 2010 and so has passed its first anniversary. We understand that a draft report is now been considered by members of the Comittee and it appears that it may be published before Easter. The Master of the Rolls said in a recent speech that he hoped that the report would be published before the end of April (see ). The RPC Privacy Blog has a post on the forthcoming report – dealing with the ZAM case and the various complaints raised by Mr John Hemming MP.
According to the Press Gazette, lifestyle adviser Carole Caplin has brought a libel claim against the Daily Mail in relation to a story headed: “Will Carole Caplin lift the lid on Blairs’ marriage?” and “Carole’s £1m question: Will she tell all about Blairs’ tax secrets?” published last September was defamatory.
The Meeja Law blog’s “Midweek media law mop up” is entitled “Phone hacking arrests; BBC Four’s See You In Court; & new Defamation Joint Committee”
Journalism and the PCC
The PCC has, apparently, warned editors to show restraint in their reporting of the Middleton family. As reported in Press Gazette, following a request made on behalf of the Middleton family, the PCC has sent a memo to editors reminding them to play by the rules and show restraint – or persuade their reporters/photographers to do so and adhere to those rules in the manner in which they obtain their material. There is a post on the story on the Media Beak blog (restored to our “active blogroll”!).
The Angry Mob blog has a post entitled “How modern editors define ‘in the public interest‘” – relating the PCC Code and a story about Billy Piper taking her child to the park.
“It seems to me that the modern editor has subverted the meaning of what is in the ‘public interest’. Originally a story would be in the ‘public interest’ when it had some kind of meaningful impact upon their own lives – i.e. it would be in their personal interest to know the contents of the story … However, the modern editor seems to believe that ‘public interest’ means anything that the public might want to look at and anything that will direct more traffic to a website”
We recommend the full post.
The Minority Thought blog has an entertaining post about a “Daily Star Sunday” story concerning a suggestion that 20,000 Arabs are “effectively” (that is, not “actually”) being given a “free pass” to the UK – a front page story under the headline “We’re in the Ship”. What is of particular interest is that, in the newspaper’s Irish edition, the same 20,000 are apparently being given a free pass to come to … Ireland.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
We are not aware of any Statements in Open Court in the past week.
The News of the World published an apology to phone hacking victims. No specific names are mentioned. Here is the text
“Voicemail interception: An apology
In 2007, a News of the World journalist and a private investigator working for the paper were jailed for accessing voicemail messages between 2004 and 2006.
Since then, a number of individuals have brought breach of privacy claims against the News of the World over wrongful voicemail interception during that period, and others are threatening claims.
Evidence has recently come to light which supports some of these claims. We have written to relevant individuals to admit liability in these civil cases and to apologise unreservedly, and will do the same to any other individuals where evidence shows their claims to be justifiable.
We hope to be able to pay appropriate compensation to all these individuals, and have asked our lawyers to set up a compensation scheme to deal with genuine claims fairly and efficiently.
Here today, we publicly and unreservedly apologise to all such individuals. What happened to them should not have happened. It was and remains unacceptable”.
The Angry Mob blog draws attention to the fact that “The Mail on Sunday” apologised last week for its front page story on how Gordon Brown stole the seat of a 7-month pregnant passenger – a headline that bore no relation to the content of the article. It points out that “You would need to have fairly sharp eyes to spot the apology which appeared in print and online under the heading ‘Gordon Brown’”.
We also note a report by “Hold the Front Page” that a journalist who complained about being described as a ‘foot-in-the-door type of freelance‘ has secured a correction from East Anglian Daily Times.
In the Courts
No media law judgments were given this week.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
In Ireland, the Irish Independent reports that a slander action by Darren Reid, a second year law student (pictured rights), was unsuccessful. Mr Reid calaimed that a bank clerk had shouted “You’ve been on ‘Crimeline'” when she saw him. Mr Justice Deery held that Mr Reid had failed to prove that these words were used. He had gone to the Grafton Street branch of AIB on 15 October 2009, to ask the bank to stop offering him increased loan facilities and complain about overdraft excess charges on his account. There is also a report in the Irish Times.
In Italy it is reported that a judge has found Google Italy guilty of defamation because of the way its search engine linked the name of an Italian businessman to the word “fraud” and has ordered the company to modify the operation of its Autocomplete service. The Court’s order is here and there a blog post about the decision by the claimant’s lawyer. In September 2010 we noted a similar decision by a French court.
In Siemer v Stiassny  NZCA 106 the New Zealand Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against an award of defamation damages of totalling NZ$825,000 (£418,000) to the first respondent and NZ$75,000 (£36,000) to the second respondent.
“Mr Stiassny had falsely labelled Paragon insolvent and lied to the Court about it; overcharged for accounting services; carried out dishonest and deceptive accounting practices; lied to the Professional Conduct Committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants; amassed a huge fortune through acting dishonestly; stolen Paragon’s technology; been guilty of serious criminal conduct; committed perjury; acted in a manner worse than the criminals of the Enron scandal; [and] was to be compared to Saddam Hussein”.
There is a post on this judgment on the Media Law Journal blog challenging the assertion that this was the “worst defamation ever”.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will (eventually) be the subject of a separate post
From the Blogs
The Guardian’s interesting new blog “Butterworth and Bowcott on Law” has a piece about the new provision which permits statements in open court to be made in privacy claims (the subject of a post by us on 30 March). Author Siobhain Butterworth complains that
“Increasingly, privacy and libel, once two distinct legal avenues of complaint, seem to be morphing into one big “protection of reputation” lump.”
She expresses particular concern about the different rules relating to prior restraint in both areas, concluding
“There are those who argue that the rule in Bonnard v Perryman should be revisited because it gives precedence to freedom of expression over the right to reputation (as article 8 has now been recast), but prior restraint is an area where the distinction between privacy and libel should be maintained fervently”.
Events and Television
On 13 April 2011 there is a “debate style” Media Law Seminar from Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary, University of London and City Law School, City University on the topic “This House believes that the English libel laws are unfit for purpose in the Twenty-First Century”. There is a news item about this on the “Tech and Law” blog.
The six part BBC documentary series ‘See you in Court’ continues at 10.35pm on Tuesday 12 April 2011. Episode 3 concerns claims by marathon runner Richard Donovan and by a mosque.
Next Week in the Courts
Judgment will be given by the Court of Appeal in Ambrosiadou v. Coward at 10.00am on 12 April 2011. The case was heard on 21 March 2011 by the Master of the Rolls, Leveson and Pitchford LJJ.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
ETK v News Group Newspapers, heard 10 March 2011 (Ward, Laws and Moore-Bick LJJ)
El Diwany v Ministry of Justice & the Police, Norway, heard 16 March 2011 (Sharp J).