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.
Six days is a long time in politics and the media. Last week we suggested that after Super-injunction spring we had entered a quiet summer. In less than a week the English media scene appears to have changed for ever. A classic media storm generated by a series of angles on the story which made mass attention unavoidable forced the hand of the politicians and then News International. By Wednesday 6 July 2011 the phone hacking story had made the headlines in every national newspaper. It even made the front page of the “Sun” – although, as Minority Thought noted “only just”. On Wednesday – the same day as the Hacked Off Inquiry Campaign was launched – David Cameron announced … a public inquiry. On Thursday News International sacrificed the News of the World itself as news came out of evidence that substantial payments had been made to police officers. On Friday David Cameron called a press conference at which he pronounced an effective death sentence on the PCC. On the same day the police made three more arrests, Andy Coulson, Clive Goodman and a third individual who has not been identified (see the report in the Press Gazette). Today the “Sunday Times” suggests that “twelve face jail” over phone hacking and the BBC claimed that the “News of the World” had first seen the “smoking gun emails” in 2007. It seems likely that more is to come.
The phone hacking story has long been ignored by mainstream politicians and the newspapers which they have so assiduously courted. Not only News International but also the Mirror, Mail and Telegraph believed that this was a “Guardian scandal” – only of interest to the metropolitan chattering classes. It has taken several murder victims to prove them wrong. As with all the best scandals, the real story is in the cover up – something which was only possible with the acquiescence of media, police and government. It is too soon to tell how widespread the fall out will be. On Sunday 10 July 2011 Mr Rupert Murdoch flew in to take personal charge. Many commentators are now predicting that his decisions will include the freezing, or perhaps withdrawal, of the News Corp bid for remaining shares in BSkyB or perhaps a total withdrawal from British press ownership. At lot has changed in a week.
Meanwhile, it is important to remember that only a few months ago, the politicians the PCC and the police were united in the view that this was a story “got up” by a few obsessives and going nowhere. The Guardian has collected some of the very ‘best’ denials about phone hacking from News International, the police and the PCC. For a view of all this from the US, it is worth reading a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review entitled “Anybody There? Why the UK’s phone hacking scandal met with media silence”. [Update] The Greenslade blog has a survey of today’s newspaper coverage of the “Murdoch’s Wapping Crisis: what the papers say“.
This week’s Meeja law Mop Up this week is entitled “Phone Hacking – What else?” – there is a collection of interesting links to the fast developing stories of the past 7 days.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
[Updated] There was one statement in open court this week, in the case of Omar Amanat v Express Newspapers on 7 July 2011 over articles in three Express titles falsely describing the claimant as an “imposter” when he attended a film premier. The statement can be found here.
Journalism and the PCC
The “Full Fact” blog has an opinion piece entitled “Press culture inquiry must focus on accuracy, not just criminality” which concludes
“As we prepare for the inquiry, we must not let these garish allegations of criminality distract us from the serial vandalism to public debate perpetrated by newspapers which fail to take care to publish accurate information, and fail to correct the record quickly when mistakes happen. Correct that part of press culture and the rest will follow”.
The Angry Mob blog has a piece “Press Reform: the challenge of addiction”
Bad journalism isn’t neatly isolated into pockets that we can cut out, it is rather a systematic product of an addictive pattern of selling us what isn’t actually any good for us. The press have become no better than a drug dealer, selling us cheap highs, quick fixes, dishonest scares and above all celebrity gossip.
In the Courts
Two trials were heard last week. The first, before Mr Justice Tugendhat in Court 14 was the libel and malicious falsehood case of Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Limited. This did not appear to attract any media attention – even in the Daily Telegraph itself.
This might be explained by the fact that most of the press were next door, in Court 14, listening to the second trial, before Mr Justice Nicol, in the privacy case of Ferdinand v MGN Limited. There were reports of the hearing in a number of papers, including (mentioning just broadsheets) the Independent and the Daily Telegraph. There was also a report on the 5RB website.
On Tuesday 5 July 2011 the Divisional Court heard the application of the Attorney General to commit two newspaper groups for contempt as a result of their reporting of the Chris Jeffries case at the end of 2010. There was a report of the hearing in the Press Gazette.
Judgment in all three cases was reserved.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
In Cornes v The Ten Group ( SASC 104) ) Peek J in the Supreme Court of South Australia awarded A$85,000 in damages in a defamation action brought by a former Labour candidate. The case arose out of an interview with Mr Dew during which a comedian, Mick Molloy, said to him (speaking about Mrs Cornes) “And apparently you slept with her, too.” Mr Dew responded “That’s not true. That did not happen”. The defendant contended that the words complained of were intended to be humorous and were not a statement of fact. This argument was rejected by the Judge. He found that the words were capable of conveying and did actually convey the meaning that the plaintiff had had sexual intercourse with Stuart Dew when she was married to Graham Cornes.
Events and Broadcasts
No events have been reported to us this week.
Next Week in the Courts
On 11 July 2011 Mrs Justice Slade will hear the second privacy trial of the year (only the fourth since Campbell) – the case of WXY v Gewanter. The first defendant is Henry Gewanter the managing director of PR company Positive Profile and the third defendant is Mark Burby. The case has been before the courts on a number of occasions. Maddison J granted the original injunction on 9 September 2009. It was continued by Sharp J on 12 October 2009. On 13 April 2010 Sir Charles Gray refused an application by Mr Burby to discharge the injunction. On 11 March 2011, Smith LJ refused permission to appeal against that decision ( EWCA Civ 336). A further application for permission to appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal (Rix LJ and Sir David Keene) on 6 July 2011.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
El Diwany v Ministry of Justice & the Police, Norway, heard 16 March 2011 (Sharp J).
Hutcheson (formerly known as “KGM”) v News Group Newspapers, heard 24 May 2011 (Master of the Rolls, Etherton and Gross LJJ).
Modi v Clarke, heard 22 June 2011 (Master of the Rolls, Thomas and Moses LJJ).
Ferdinand v MGN, heard 4 to 6 July 2011 (Nicol J)
Thornton v Telegraph Media Group, heard 4 to 6 and 8 July 2011 (Tugendhat J)