Media and Law Review of the Year, 2012: Part 1, January to April – Judith Townend

31 12 2012

2012-Social-Media-Year-in-ReviewWith the Leveson Inquiry, ongoing phone hacking litigation, several police operations investigating press activity, a growing number of prosecutions around social media use and continued parliamentary scrutiny of defamation and privacy, it has been a busy year for media and communication related law. That’s before we’ve even mentioned scandal at the BBC, the royal family, significant libel trials or contempt of court. The Inforrm blog followed and discussed all these developments in nearly 600 blog posts – reaching an overall total of over 1,500  in less than 3 years.

This is the media law that was.

January 2012

The Leveson Inquiry continued its hearings, with evidence taken from the press, including the Sun, the Financial Times, the Independent, the Mail and the Express, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, Hello!, OK!, Heat, several regional titles and Private Eye. In the last week of January, evidence broadened to broadcasters, internet and social media companies and a number of campaign groups.

The Administrative Court dismissed an application by Associated Newspapers (supported by the Daily Telegraph) to quash a decision by Lord Justice Leveson to admit evidence from journalists who wish to remain anonymous.

The High Court ruled that the BBC could film and broadcast an interview with Babar Ahmad, a terrorism suspect who was detained in the UK without a trial for seven years, after the justice secretary Kenneth Clarke refused permission.

One hundred thousand freedom of information requests were made via mySociety’s WhatDoTheyKnow.com website since its launch in 2008.

The actor Neil Morrissey received an apology and substantial damages from the Daily Mail over an article that wrongly claimed he was banned from a French bar.

News Group Newspapers apologised to Paul Gascoigne for a story in the Sun in July 2010 that wrongly alleged that he groped a shop assistant.

The Independent on Sunday published an apology to the Sun for an article in April 2011, which reported suspicions of phone hacking. The Sun asked the Independent on Sunday to point out “that there is no evidence whatsoever any such hacking was carried out by the title or on behalf of the title“.

The first libel trial of the year, Rothschild v Associated Newspapers, took place (without a jury).

Tweeting was banned in the Harry Redknapp trial at Southwark Crown Court, after a journalist tweeted the name of a juror and about evidence given by a witness under oath in the absence of the jury.

Eighteen phone hacking settlements were announced at the high court.

The European Commission released the EU’s new Data Protection Regulation and Directive.

The Inforrm blog marked its second birthday.

Quote of the month (QOTM): Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC, giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry:

“I have consistently given colleagues and at least one prime minster the advice that they shouldn’t worry as much about the newspapers. I think it is the case that politicians have got closer to editors and journalists…and not always to their advantage. It has been, indeed very, often the reverse.

February 2012

Former MSP Tommy Sheridan was freed from prison, after serving a year of his three-year sentence for perjury committed during his libel case against News of the World.

The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section) decided that there was no violation of Article 10 as a result of a defamation judgment against a Czech anti-corruption NGO, Pink Panther.

Representatives from the PCC, various regulators, private investigators’ organisations and mobile phone companies gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, as well as Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, and DAC Sue Akers. February saw the end of Module One of the Inquiry.

The media were successful in two ECtHR cases, Axel Springer v Germany (App No 39954/08) and on Hannover v Germany (No.2) (App Nos. 40660/08 ; 60641/08). In both cases, taking account of the nature of the individuals involved and the publications’ right to freedom of expression prevailed over the right to privacy.

The claim for judicial review of the Metropolitan police conduct in relation to the phone hacking investigation ended in victory for the claimants, with a police apology and an agreement to pay costs.

Nine of the ten phone hacking cases due for trial settled. Charlotte Church’s settlement was announced at the end of the month.

The billionaire financier Nathaniel Rothschild lost his libel action against the Daily Mail, which contested the paper’s portrayal of his role in bringing Lord Mandelson (then European Commissioner for Trade) together with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (Rothschild v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2012] EWHC 177 (QB) (10 February 2012)).

The ECtHR rejected an application by Times Newspapers for its conviction for contempt of court in 2009, in Michael Alexander Seckerson and Times Newspapers Ltd v UK (Applications nos. 32844/10 and 33510/10).

The son of Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary obtained an injunction against the publishers of the Daily Star Sunday but Tugendhat J refused to continue it later in the month ([2012] EWHC 355 (QB)).

The House of Lords Communications committee published its inquiry into the future of investigative journalism.

Judgment was handed down in the case of Gold v Cox ([2012] EWHC 272 (QB)) an interim order was granted to prevent the publication of private and confidential information about Jacqueline Gold, the high-profile chief executive of Ann Summers.

Mr Justice Tugendhat continued an order which prevented journalists from naming or harassing the landlord who owns the property where Abu Qatada was staying with his family.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the defendant’s renewed application for permission to appeal in the case of Thornton v Telegraph Media Group.

In Vejdeland and others v. Sweden, the ECtHR ruled that Sweden did not violate the right to freedom of expression: the criminal conviction of the applicants for distributing leaflets that contained offensive statements about homosexuals did not breach the Convention.

Mr Justice Hildyard dismissed an application by the online ticketing operator Viagogo for an injunction to restrain the broadcast of a Channel Four Dispatches programme.

Tesla’s libel and malicious falsehood claim against BBC Top Gear was dismissed by Tugendhat J, after an application to amend its original claim (Tesla Motors Ltd & Anor v BBC [2012] EWHC 310 (QB) (23 February 2012).

A new News International title, the Sun on Sunday, launched, complete with a ‘Readers’ Champion’.

Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and the French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in Syria.

James Murdoch relinquished his position as Executive Chairman at News International.

QOTM: Paul Dacre, to the Leveson Inquiry: “I’d die in a ditch to defend a columnist to have her views“.

March 2012

March brought Module two of the Leveson Inquiry, examining the relationship between the press and police.

The Metropolitan Police’s loan of the now deceased police horse, Raisa, to Rebekah Brooks caught the national media’s attention.

Eady J handed down judgment in Tamiz v Google, ([2012] EWHC 449 (QB)). It was held that “Blogger.com” was not liable for the publication of defamatory material – it was a “purely passive wall” with no responsibility for internet “graffiti” no matter how offensive or libellous.

Tugendhat J gave written judgment in Giggs v NGN ([2012] EWHC 431 (QB)), striking out the case and refusing Giggs relief following breaches of the rules of court.

The Mirror Group was refused permission by the Supreme Court to appeal its contempt of court conviction for coverage of Christopher Jefferies in 2011.

It was announced that the PCC was to disband and move into a “transitional phase“, “transferring its assets, liabilities and staff to a new regulatory body“.

It was reported that former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks and her husband, the racehorse trainer, Charlie Brooks were among six new Operation Weeting arrests.

The Ministry of Justice published its first statistical report on privacy injunctions.

The singer and X-factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos obtained an interim injunction to restrain the publication of a purported “sex tape”. Tulisa used a YouTube video to “set the record straight” following the leak and publication of a private video.

In a unanimous decision ([2012] UKSC 11) the Supreme Court allowed the appeal of Times Newspapers Limited against a decision of the Court of Appeal ([2010] EWCA Civ 804) which had held that held that it could not rely on Reynolds qualified privilege.

Former New Zealand test cricketer Chris Cairns succeeded in his “Twitter libel” claim against the former Chairman of the Indian Premier League, Lalit Modi ([2012] EWHC 756 (QB)). The Defendant was ordered to pay £90,000 damages for tweets published in early 2010.

In the Australian case of Trkulja v Yahoo! Inc LLC & Anor ([2012] VSC 88), after the jury had made findings on liability, Kaye J awarded damages of Aus$225,000 against the search engine Yahoo!

The Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions, set up in July 2011, following “super-injunction spring”, published its Report.

The father of “Baby P” was awarded compensation of £75,000 under the “offer of amends” procedure (KC v MGN Ltd ([2012] EWHC 483 (QB))

Scottish lawyer Paul McBride QC, 47, died in his sleep on a visit to Pakistan.

Index on Censorship and English PEN published their ‘Alternative Libel Project’ report.

Winners of the Index on Censorship Awards 2012 included Azerbaijani journalist Idrak Abbasov (Guardian journalism award), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (Advocacy Award sponsored by Bindmans), Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat (Arts Award), Freedomfone (Innovation Award sponsored by Google) and the Research and Information Centre Memorial (Index 40th Anniversary award).

QOTM: David Cameron,

Before the election I did go riding with him [Charlie Brooks]. He has a number of different horses and yes one of them was this former police horse Raisa, which I did ride.”

April 2012

Module two of the Leveson Inquiry, examining the relationship between the police and the press drew to a close.

Following a two week break, there was a long-awaited appearance by News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son James. Lord Justice Leveson heard from the Barclay and Lebedev families in a week of evidence bridging modules two and three of the inquiry.

In R (Guardian News and Media Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates Court ([2012] EWCA Civ 420) the Court of Appeal established the common law right of ordinary people and the media to obtain documents that are used in court cases.

The Times applied to the Supreme Court for permission to withdraw the second part of its appeal in Flood v Times Newspapers ([2012] UKSC 11).

The blogger Guido Fawkes published a section of the Operation Motorman files, covering News International related entries.

It was reported that Richard Horton, who blogged as ‘NightJack’ was to pursue legal action against the Times for breach of confidence, misuse of private information and deceit. David Allen Green published a lengthy piece on his New Statesman blog detailing events leading up to the Leveson Inquiry’s examination of the NightJack episode.

In Gillberg v Sweden [41723/06 [2012] ECHR 569 (3 April 2012)], the Grand Chamber of the European Court determined that Professor Christopher Gillberg could not rely on Article 8 and 10 in his refusal to grant access to research material at Gothenburg University.

The full judgment in the libel case of McGrath v Dawkins was made available ([2012] EWHC B3 (QB)).

It was reported that there were 46 civil claims being pursued against News International, in the ’round two’ Case Management Conference before Vos J. The court heard that the Metropolitan Police had revised the number of “likely victims” from 829 to 1,174.

The culture secretary Jeremy Hunt faced calls for his resignation following evidence about News International’s contact with his office over the BSkyB takeover bid (dropped in 2011), but the Prime Minister David Cameron said it would be wrong to sack him. Hunt’s special adviser Adam Smith resigned, however.

Benjamin Pell drew Inforrm’s attention to the fact that Wednesday 18 April 2012 marked the 1000th day since a jury trial of a libel case.

QOTM: Guido Fawkes, on his motivation for publishing the Operation Motorman files:

“[There was] no political will to see this through, the press are by and large keen for their own reasons to suppress the truth and the judiciary are actively suppressing the evidence“.

Comment below, or tweet @jtownend / @inforrm.

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This review was compiled for Inforrm by Judith Townend, a freelance journalist and PhD researcher examining legal restraints on the media.


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