Law and Media Round Up – 18 July 2011

18 07 2011

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.

News

The phone hacking story remains the only media news in town. In last week’s round up we recorded the transformation of phone hacking from a story in a few broadsheets to a worldwide media phenomenon. The first week of the “phone hacking firestorm” was

spectacular enough but the last seven days have been even more remarkable. The week began with a meeting between “Hacked Off” campaigners (and phone hacking victims) and the Deputy Prime Minister. They went on to meet the leader of the opposition and the Prime Minister himself. On Tuesday senior police officers gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee – and did not impress. On Wednesday it was announced that there would be a single – two part – judicial inquiry, led by Lord Justice Leveson (profiled here in the “Daily Telegraph”). Then News Corporation announced that it was dropping its bid for control of the satellite broadcaster BskyB. On Thursday former News of the World Deputy Editor Neil Wallis was arrested. On Friday Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton resigned (see the News Corp announcement). The same day Rupert Murdoch apologised personally to the Dowler family. He was, however, telling the “Wall Street Journal” that only “minor mistakes” had been made in the handling of the scandal. It is difficult to imagine what things might have looked like if “major mistakes” had been made.

On Saturday Rupert Murdoch apologised personally to the readers of a number of national newspapers. On Sunday News International apologised to readers Sunday Newspapers. Later in the day Rebekah Brooks was arrested “by appointment” on suspicion of

“conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977 and on suspicion of corruption allegations contrary to Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906”

Then, later in the day, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned as a result of the criticism of the police relationship with former “News of the World” employee Neil Wallis – who was employed to advise on public relations issues and who was working as a public relations consultant for Champneys spa when Sir Paul recuperated from surgery there earlier this year, staying there for free. The “New York Times” has published a detailed investigation of the role of the police under the headline “Stain From Tabloids Rubs Off on a Cozy Scotland Yard“.

Meanwhile, after initial refusals, both Rupert and James Murdoch have agreed to appear before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee next Tuesday. Rebekah Wade had already agreed to appear but, in the light of her arrest, it seems likely that the Committee will release her. The “Observer” editorial sets out provided a helpful “List of Questions” for the Committee to ask.

An interesting angle on the committee is found in the “Independent on Sunday’s” whose front page lead was a story about the friendship between the Committee Chairman, John Whittingdale MP, and recently resigned News Corporation executive Les Hinton. The same newspaper also reported that Operation Weeting officers were keen to interview former News of the World executive editor Alex Marunchak and former deputy news editor Greg Miskiw. The latter is believed to be in Florida and left the “News of the World” in July 2005.

The “Hacked Off” campaign – to press for a public inquiry in the phone hacking scandal – has been spectacularly successful – aided, of course, by News International’s flurry of own goals. One its founders, Brian Cathcart, tells the story of the campaign so far on the “Index on Censorship” blog. Although the campaign’s central aim – a public inquiry – was achieved on the very day of its launch it still believes it has a continuing role:

“we are keen to help ensure that the interests of the victims are well represented when the inquiry itself begins. Beyond that it is clear already that we will not simply wind up Hacked Off. We are just at the beginning of a great storm of debate about the press, police and politics and we see value in Hacked Off being around to take part in that debate

The Meeja Law media mop this week takes its title from a comment made by Andy Hayman to the Home Affairs Select Committee “‘Good god! Absolutely not. I can’t believe you suggested that’

Statements in Open Court and Apologies

We are not aware of any statements in open court this week.

Journalism and the PCC

The Angry Mob blog has a post entitled “The wriggling begins” noting that

“The press … are desperate to protect the PCC and their own freedom to lie, distort and bully with the impunity that they have enjoyed alongside the NOTW – for it must be remembered, repeated and shared that the NOTW are not an exception here. And so it begins, the backlash, the warnings and the frankly insidious arguments that the proper and fit regulation of the press is dangerous to democracy and is motivated by devious politicians rather than a devious and dishonest press”.

The Tabloid Watch blog makes a similar point, commenting on the Daily Mail’s view that it’s “time to move on from phone hacking” – pointing out the slight inconsistency between the “Mail’s” views in its editorial and the stories it has been running over the past fortnight.

It is not just in Britain that tabloids behave badly. In an article entitled “Tabloid journalism not just in Britain” some other examples are discussed – particularly one involving the German tabloid “Bild Zeitung”.

In the Courts

The case of WXY v Gewanter, the second privacy trial of the year began on 11 July 2011 before Mrs Justice Slade and proceeded all last week in private. The trial continues this week.

On 13 July 2011 Stanley Burnton and Aikens LLJ refused the claimant permission to appeal in the case of Smith -v- ADVFN Plc & Ors. The decision under appeal was [2010] EWHC 3255 (QB).

From the Blogs

The Strasbourg Observers blog has a post which is highly critical of the curious Article 8 case of Sipoş v. Romania in which a violation was found as the result of an unsuccessful domestic criminal defamation proceedings. The Third Section held that the acquittal of a defendant in domestic defamation proceedings was a violation of the Article 8 right to reputation of the applicant. It is surprising that the Court should engage in a reassessment of the facts found by the Romanian court – particularly at a time when the Parliamentary Assembly is urging the decriminalisation of defamation and insult (see Resolutions 1123 and 1577).

Events and Broadcasts

The event of the week is the appearance before the Culture Media and Sport Committee of Messrs Rupert and James Murdoch and (possibly) Rebekah Brooks at 2.30pm on Tuesday 19 July 2011.

Next Week in the Courts

In addition to the part heard trial of WXY v Gewanter in Court 25 before Mrs Justice Slade, there is another “confidentiality” trial, this time in Court 13 before Mr Justice Tugendhat. The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis & anr v Times Newspapers Ltd & anr . The action is being brought by the police and the SFO to restrain the use by the Times of police documents in a libel trial. There have been two previous, interim, judgments in the case by Mr Justice Tugendhat ([2011] EWHC 776 (QB) and [2011] EWHC 1566 (QB)).

On Tuesday 19 July 2011 the Court of Appeal will hand down judgment in Hutcheson (formerly known as “KGM”) v News Group Newspapers. The case was heard on 24 May 2011 by Master of the Rolls, Etherton and Gross LJJ who dismissed the appeal with reasons being given later.

Reserved Judgments

The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:

El Diwany v Ministry of Justice & the Police, Norway, heard 16 March 2011 (Sharp J).

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)

Robins & anr v Kordowski, heard on 14 July 2011 (Tugendhat J)


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