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Law and Media Round Up – 7 May 2012

The big media law story of the week was the culture, media and sport select committee’s report into phone hacking [PDF] and one line in particular: its conclusion that “Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company“.  The committee found that its 2010 report on press standards was partially based on false evidence which had been intended to cover up the extent of the phone hacking scandal; its findings are summarised on Inforrm here. News Corp’s response to the report is here.

By way of comparison, when the committee reported in 2010, the Sun ran a short article on aReport ‘hijack‘,” dismissing its findings and claiming that Philip Davies, Conservative MP, believed Labour committee members had abused the report for “petty party political advantage“.

That angle was subordinate in coverage elsewhere. This time, however, the party division was more overt, with committee members Tom Watson MP and Louise Mensch MP loudly disputing the Murdoch line on Twitter and in the national media. The Guardian’s Data Blog has illustrated how the different committee members voted on amendments to the report here.

The biggest Leveson news – with no evidence hearings last week – was the announcement of government members as core participants. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt, Kenneth Clarke, Theresa May, Michael Gove, and Vince Cable, will be collectively known as “Government Core Participants”. A copy of the ruling is available [PDF] on the Leveson Inquiry website.

Natalie Peck has summarised Module Two of the Inquiry here, which covered the relationship between press and police and included a “floating week” of evidence from newspaper proprietors.

“In what circumstances can a claimant in civil litigation commence proceedings under a pseudonym?” asks the RPC Privacy Blog, commenting on the case CVB v MGN Ltd ([2012] EWHC 1148 (QB)) which concerns a privacy claim over the publication of photographs taken at a commemorative service. Tugendhat J decided that the proceedings should remain anonymised so far as the claimant is concerned [69] but “that all derogations from open justice must be kept under review by the court, and varied or discharged if they cease to be necessary” [66].

This week will see the State Opening of Parliament. The Queen’s Speech is reported to include the government’s plans for libel reform and cameras in court. Timings are noted below [‘Next week in Parliament’].

On the UK Constitutional Law Blog, barrister Tom Hickman argues that freedom of expression “seems often to be trammeled in the name of the Olympics“. He questions the limitations in place, as enforced by the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006, which prohibits businesses from any promotion linked to the games.

The High Court has set aside a decision by the Adjudication Panel for Wales, which had dismissed a Welsh councillor’s appeal against the decision of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Standards Committee in November 2010. The committee had censured the councillor after finding that a number of comments or blogs posted by him on http://www.manorbier.com, a website he owned and wholly controlled breached the Code of Conduct. In his High Court ruling, however, Beatson J found in favour of the claimant’s Article 10 Rights.(Calver, R (on the application of) v Public Services Ombudsman for Wales [2012] EWHC 1172 (Admin) (03 May 2012). The Telegraph reported on the case here.

PA Media Lawyer reports on a case that has established that a newspaper is not defined by what material it was printed on, “nor by shape or size” but it does have to contain news. While Brandon Davies, 47, from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, lost his appeal against a conviction for trading without a licence, contrary to the City of Westminster Act 1999, he was pleased with the High Court’s decision. “I consider this case a win. I have got what I wanted because the judge has said the size and shape of a newspaper, or what it is made of, is not the mark of whether it is a newspaper or not,” he said, outside court.

Inforrm celebrated one million hits last week, two years and three months after launch. To mark the milestone, there will be a a party for the site’s contributors and subscribers. Details will be emailed to subscribers shortly (hint: to get an invitation, you need to subscribe).

Statements in Open Court and Apologies

On 3 May 2012 a statement in open court was read before HHJ Moloney QC in the case of Boukemiche v Telegraph Media Group Ltd. The court was told that reporting was based on information supplied by a freelance journalist and incorrectly suggested that Mr Boukemiche was on trial in France in January 2011 for associating with a known terrorist organisation; for financing terrorism; offering a “safe house” in France to British terrorists from Al Qaeda networks and that he was a “gangster” who was accused of carrying out robberies (including one allegation of armed robbery) and/or had admitted to robbery.

There is a report on Telegraph.co.uk, stating that Mr Boukemiche accepted apology and damages following reports in the Telegraph and other newspapers. Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, representing the newspapers, “told the court that the publications acknowledged that the information was untrue and apologised for the distress caused“.

Journalism and regulation

Numerous resolved complaints have been published by the PCC since last week’s round up.

As reported in Press Gazette, one resolved case revealed that a comment moderator lost their role at Mail Online, after he or she added to a user’s comment. Ray Pooley’s comment was added to by the moderator (marked in bold): “And on an allegedly unmoderated thread. Par for the course on this forum unfortunately. OF COURSE it’s moderated – you people are not responsible for any legal actions, the paper is… think before you ink“. The complaint and resolution is detailed in Mr Ray Pooley v Daily Mail (Clause 1), 03/05/2012.

Other notable cases included:

  • A man who complained about a historical online article on Wales Online that “documented the opening of his trial for an alleged drugs offence but failed to report that he was later released with no charges brought“. The newspaper removed the article. (A man v WalesOnline (Clause 1), 03/05/2012)
  • Julian Assange complained to the PCC about the description of ‘rape charges’ against him – when in fact he has not, to date, been charged with any offence – as noted in: Mr Julian Assange v The Independent (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; and Mr Julian Assange v Daily Mail (Clause 1) 03/05/2012).
  • 164 people complained about a Sun’s columnist claims about the medical conditions ME and fibromyalgia. The lead complainants were The ME Association and UK Fibromyalgia. The case was resolved “following the publication of a number of critical letters from readers (including the ME Association) and a follow-up feature on ME and fibromyalgia which provided factual information about the conditions and highlighted appropriate case studies“. (UK Fibromyalgia & ME Association v The Sun (Clauses 1, 12), 02/05/2012).

Other resolved complaints listed:

Mr Giovanni Di Stefano v Sunday Mail (Clauses 1, 2), 04/05/2012; Mr Michael Speck v The Sunday Times (Clauses 1, 2), 04/05/2012; Peter Reynolds v Daily Mail (Clause 1), 03/05/2012); Jean-Pierre Bestel v Gravesend Reporter (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; A man v Sunday Mail (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; Mr Adam Wood v Daily Mail (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; Croydon Council v The Daily Telegraph (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; Croydon Council v Croydon Guardian (Clause 1), 03/05/2012.

Mr Jem Aldridge v The Hunts Post (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; Mr Carl Waring v Daily Mail (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; A woman v The Argus (Brighton) 03/05/2012; Mr Mark Gunter v Guernsey Press & Star (Clause 1), 03/05/2012; Mr Leonard Kernott v Daily Mail (Clause 3), 03/05/2012; Mr Peter Reynolds v Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph (Clause 1), 01/05/2012; A woman v East Riding Mail (Clauses 3, 9), 30/04/2012.

It was World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2012. A joint message by UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Ms Irina Bokova can be found here [PDF].

A new book, by a former researcher to Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, claims that former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee had once voiced scepticism about certain details of the investigation. An extract was reproduced in New York Magazine here. Woodward has disputed Jeff Himmelman’s report.

Research & resources

Regulating the Press: A comparative study of international press councils, was commissioned by the RISJ as the first comparative study of press regulation to contribute to debate on UK press reform. Author Lara Fielden discussed the report at a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism event at the Royal Society of Arts on 30 April 2012

In the Courts

The libel trial in the case of Bento v Chief Constable of Bedfordshire continued all week before Bean J. The evidence was concluded and closing submissions will be heard on 8 and 9 May 2012.

On 2 May 2012 Sharp J gave judgment in Qema v NGN Ltd ([2012] EWHC 1146 (QB)) (heard 29 February and 1 March 2012). 5RB comments on the case, concerning a claim of malicious prosecution, here.

On Thursday 3 May 2012 Tugendhat J handed down judgment in the case of CVB v MGN Ltd ([2012] EWHC 1148 (QB)) (heard 19 April 2012). There is a post about this decision on the RPC Privacy Blog.

Events

9 May 2012, 6.30pm: LSE Public Conversation – Dial M for Murdoch with Tom Watson MP and Martin Hickman (chair: Damian Tambini). London School of Economics.

11 May 2012, 5pm, The Leveson Inquiry – one year on and the future for Rupert Murdoch, Steve Hewlett, BBC broadcaster, Guardian columnist and media commentator. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Nuffield College, Oxford.

15 May 2012, 7pm: #FCBBCA with Timothy Garton Ash: Is it time for a global conversation on free speech? Frontline Club, London.

17 May 2012, 6pm: Rally for Media Reform – The Coordinating Committee for Media Reform, in conjunction with the Hacked Off campaign, Westminster Central Hall.

26 May, 4.30pm: Index on Censorship discussion, in association with Free Word: Where do you draw the line? Brighton Festival (Brighton Dome, Corn Exchange).

12 June 2012, all day: The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ and Beyond: Data Protection and Freedom of Expression in the Age of Web 2.0, Oxford Privacy Information Law and Society, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford University.

22 June 2012, 10.30am-1pm: Changing the face of freedom, Free Word Centre, London.

28 June 2012, all day, LexisNexis Defamation & Privacy conference, London.

Know of any media law events happening in May / June? Please let Inforrm know: inforrmeditorial@gmail.com.

Media Law in Other Jurisdictions

Australia: In the case of Menulog Pty Ltd v TCN Channel Nine Pty Ltd [2012] NSWSC 440 Hislop J dismissed a motion to discharge an injunction granted against a broadcaster in the tort of malicious falsehood.

Fiji: In Fiji on 1 May 2012 the High Court gave judgment in the libel case of Gosai v Patel [2012] FJHC 1042. The plaintiff was awarded damages of F$70,000.00 (£24,000) in respect of an allegation suggesting that he committed fraud and cheated the council and the rate payers by obtaining a 50% discount on the outstanding rates without declaring his interest in the property.

Namibia: A policy on access to information would greatly contribute to accurate reporting by local journalists, according to Kae-Matundu-Tjiparuro, chairperson of Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Namibia. The Namibian Sun has an article which touches on other issues in neighbouring countries here.

South Africa: In an interlocutory application for further discovery and particulars in a defamation case, Bosasa v Mail & Guardian ([2012] ZAGPJHC 71), a South African court has unequivocally endorsed the importance to the media of protecting the confidentiality of their sources. Dario Milo and Pamela Stein report on the case for Inforrm here.

Colombia: ARTICLE 19 has submitted a brief to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in March calling for it “to require that Colombia take remedial measures to protect journalists who are threatened by officials and others because of their work“.

Next week in the courts

The libel trial in the case of Bento v Chief Constable of Bedfordshire will continue before Bean J.

On 8 May 2012 the Court of Appeal will hear the oral application for permission to appeal in the case of Coulson v News Group Newspapers. The case will be heard by one or two of the Master of the Rolls, Laws and Richards LJJ.

Next week at the Leveson Inquiry

Wednesday 9 May, 10:00 – 16:30: Martin Clarke (Editor of the Mail Online); DCI Brendan Gilmour (Operation Glade, MPS); T/ACC Russell Middleton (Operation Reproof, Devon and Cornwall Police)

Thursday 10th May, 10:00 – 16:30: Andy Coulson; Viscount Rothermere

Friday 11th May, 10:00 – 16:30: Rebekah Brooks

Next week in Parliament

Wednesday 9 May: State Opening of Parliament.

11.30am: Queen’s Speech. Outline of the Government’s policies and proposed legislative programme for the new session

3.30pm: Motion for Humble Address. Debate on the Queen’s Speech

Judgments

The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:

Levy v. Coomber heard 9 and 16 November 2011 (HHJ Moloney QC)

El-Naschie v Macmillan, heard 11, 14, 16 to 18, 21, 22, 25, 28-30 November, 1 -2 December 2011 (Sharp J)

Woodrow v Johansson, heard 19 January 2012 (HHJ Parkes QC)

Chambers v DPP, heard 8 February 2012 (Gross LJ and Irwin J)

Hunt v Times Newspapers, heard 9 and 12 March 2012 (Eady J)

Bento v Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, heard 3 April 2012 (Maurice Kay and Hooper LJJ and Henderson J)

Trimingham v Associated Newspapers heard 23-25 and 27 April 2012 (Tugendhat J)

Levi v Bates, heard 23-26 April 2012 (HHJ Gosnell)

Also on Inforrm last week

This week’s Round Up was compiled for Inforrm by Judith Townend, a freelance journalist and PhD researcher examining legal restraints on the media, who runs the Meeja Law blog. She is @jtownend on Twitter. Please send suggestions, tips and event listings for inclusion in future round ups to jt.townend@gmail.com.

2 Comments

  1. Harvey Kass

    It’s absolutely right that Jeremy Hunt’s quasi-judicial role is being scrutinised. But can anyone help me understand how Tom Watson, as a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, can be free to write and promote Dial M for Murdoch, whilst at the same time sitting in judgment on his subject? Seems to undermine the process, but no doubt a boost for sales.

  2. jtownend

    Reblogged this on Media law and ethics.

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