New Round UpThe most high profile media case of the week was Lord McAlpine’s claim against Sally Bercow.  After Mr Justice Tugendhat’s ruling that Ms Bercow’s tweet made a serious defamatory allegation against Lord McAlpine ([2013] EWHC 1342 (QB)), a settlement of the claim was announced. 

Ms Bercow issued a statement in which she said “I did not intend to libel Lord McAlpine. I was being conversational and mischievous”  She said that she was “surprised and disappointed” by the ruling but had accepted it as the end of the matter.

There was an Inforrm post about the case.  Joshua Rozenberg had a piece in the “Guardian”, “Sally Bercow learns the social media rules the hard way in McAlpine case“, concluding that

“The law of defamation is well known to those who write for a living. One hopes Twitter users are beginning to learn what a powerful and potentially dangerous weapon they have at their fingertips. A tweet is more like a broadcast than an email and is subject to the law of libel in the same way. It was Bercow herself who drew the obvious conclusion: “Today’s ruling should be seen as a warning to all social media users.”

The “Independent” suggested that “The whole McAlpine story has been a salutary tale for the changing world of social media“.

On 22 May 2013, the Divisional Court discharged the anonymity order in favour of convicted murdered, David McGreavy (R (M) v Parole Board [2013] EWHC 1360).  The Court declined an invitation to issue guidance as to the procedure appropriate to applications for anonymity orders in the Administrative Court but nevertheless emphasised the problems of making such orders at the last moment and by consent.  There were news reports of the case, inter alia, on the BBC website, in The Independent and in the Press Gazette. There was also a post on the RPC Privacy blog – RPC having acted for the applicant newspapers, Associated Newspapers Limited, Times Newspapers Limited, Newsgroup Newspapers Limited and MGN Limited.  We will be publishing an Inforrm case comment shortly.

The consultation deadline for the Pressbof Royal Charter [pdf] was Friday 24 May 2013.  The Charter has been opposed by the NUJ and by a number of prominent victims of phone hacking.  In addition, the Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the Culture Media and Sport Comittee have written to the privy council and the culture secretary, Maria Miller, to say they reject the Pressbofl royal charter. There was a post about the consultation on the LSE Media Policy Blog.

On 21 May 2013 the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee had an evidence session on the regulation of the press.  This can be watched on Parliament TV.  There was considerable publicity for Liberty’s submission on press regulation [pdf] to the committee – this condemned the use of Royal Charters for press self-regulation and suggests a system of “judicial recognition”.  However, Peter Preston argued in the “Observer” that this would make things even slower.

The Press Gazette reports that Saudi cleric, Sheikh Saad Bin Nasser Al Shathri, is suing The Guardian for unlimited damages claiming the paper has wrongly suggested he is an “extremist” sympathetic to al-Qaida.

Statements in Open Court and Apologies

Actor Riz Ahmed has apologised and paid damages to freelance journalist Hardeep Singh who he had accused of being a “bigot” and falsely claimed had punched him.  In his apologiy Ahmed said

“As you know, on 9 June 2012 I posted a Tweet to my followers on Twitter in which I accused you of being a bigot following the article you wrote that was published in the Telegraph entitled: It’s time to stop using the word ‘Asians’.  I also alleged that you had tried to punch me at the Jazz Cafe.  I wish to withdraw and apologise for both of my allegations and I recognise in particular that you were not in the vicinity of the Jazz Cafe nor have you ever tried to punch me.  It was simply a case of mistaken identity on my part.  I confirm that in order to mark the sincerity of my apology I have agreed to pay you a sum by way of compensation together with your reasonable legal costs. I am glad that we have been able to resolve this matter.”

There is a report of the apology in the Press Gazette.

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Journalism and regulation

Liz Mackean and Meirion Jones, who worked on Newsnight’s spiked Jimmy Savile investigation, have won scoop of the year at the London Press Club awards, sharing the prize with two others involved in exposing the late Jim’ll Fix It presenter’s sexual abuse of children

Charlie Beckett, on his Polis Blog, has an interesting post on “Should the media have shown the images of the Woolwich attacker?”  He suggests that “the simple answer is ‘yes’, but that each of these cases must be put in context and each publication framed in a way to minimise risk”.  Meanwhile, the attack produced some strong views from the tabloids.  The Zelo Street blog has a post on the subject: “Woolwich – Dacre Sends In The Ranters“.

There was a comment piece in the Guardian by Jane Fae arguing that “It will take more than PCC regulations to stop the bullying of trans people“.

There were no adjudications but several resolved cases reported by the PCC:  Ms Aileen Carney v Wigan Observer  (Wigan Observer); Michaela Hewett on behalf of Nicki Myers v Daily Mail (Daily Mail); Medecines Sans Frontiers UK v Daily Record (Daily Record)Ms Abigail Pollard v That’s Life (That’s Life); Ms Sarah Thorogood v Daily Mail (Daily Mail).

Social Media

Facebook has announced that it is signing up to the Global Network Initiative, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that is dedicated to advancing freedom of expression and privacy rights, particularly focused on information technology companies that handle private data and communications.  However, as the Slate points out, Facebook has failed to embrace the practice of releasing transparency reports that reveal the extent of government attempts to remove content from the Web or grab users’ private data.

The Pew Research Centre has published the results of a survey on “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy“.  The Key findings are that teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles than they did when we the last survey was carried out in 2006:

  • 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
  • 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
  • 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
  • 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
  • 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.

The “paidContent” site has an interesting post entitled “Instructions on how to transform a comment troll into a human being“.

Commentary, research & resources

In the Courts

On 20 May 2013 the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in the case of AAA v Associated Newspapers ([2013] EWCA Civ 554). The appeal was dismissed, the Court of Appeal upholding the finding of Nicola Davies J that disclosures in the Daily Mail of the fact that a child’s father was a prominent politician did not infringe the child’s rights of privacy.  There was a post about the case on the RPC Privacy Blog, which did not name the politician.  He was, however, named in an article in the Guardian “Public has right to know Boris Johnson fathered child during affair, court rules” and, again, by the “Daily Mail“.   According to an online poll by the Independent 33% of respondents said it made it less likely that they would vote for Mr Johnson but 56% said it would make no difference.

On 21 and 22 May 2013 there was a pre-trial review in the case of Cruddas v Calvert.

On 21 May 2013, Cobb J gave judgment in the case of Z v Associated Newspapers ([2013] EWHC 1371 (Fam)).  There is a news item about the case on the One Brick Court website.

On 22 May 2013, the Administrative gave the judgment in the case of R (M) v Parole Board ([2013] EWHC 1360).

On 24 May 2013, Tugendhat J gave judgment in the case of McAlpine v Bercow ([2013] EWHC 1342 (QB)).


31 May 2013, Rethinking Media and Journalism Practice, University of Winchester.

4-7 June 2013, IFJ Congress 2013, Dublin.

6-7 June 2013, The 6th Annual Privacy Law Scholars Conference, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology

8 June 2013, Citizen Journalism Educational Trust (CJET) and The-Latest.Com / After Leveson, is Citizen Journalism the answer? [Book here]

8 June 2013, ORGCon2013 digital rights conference, Institute of Engineering and Technology, 2 Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL.

10 June 2013, Caught in the web: how free are we online?, Kings Place, London.

24-25 June 2013, The Constitution of the Public Sphere: the post-Leveson Landscape (W G Hart Legal Workshop 2013), Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London.

17 September 2013, IBC Legal’s Protecting the Media 2013, London.

26-27 September 2013, Jersey Law Via the Internet 2013, Radisson Blu Hotel, Jersey

8-9 April 2014, 1984: Freedom and Censorship in the Media – Where Are We Now?“, Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland

Know of any media law events happening in the next few months? Please let Inforrm know:

Media Law in Other Jurisdictions

India:  The publishers of the “Times of India” have been criticised for threatening to sue for defamation a 22 year old student blogger as a result of a post which comments on the Times Publishing House’s ongoing litigation with the Financial Times Ltd over a trademark dispute.

New Zealand:  The High Court dismissed, as “wholly deficient” defamation claim by businessman Augustine Lau against the publisher of Metro magazine.   There is a report of the case in the New Zealand Herald

Portugal:  It is reported that the attorney general’s office has opened an investigation after celebrated Portuguese Author Miguel Sousa Tavares, referred to Portugal’s head of state, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, as a clown in a recent interview.  Insulting the honor of the Head of State in Portugal constitutes an offence under the country’s penal code.

Slovenia.  Reporters without Borders has condemned the sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment for blogger Mitja Kunstelj for insulting two journalists. In the offending posts, he used extremely crude terms to describe details of the private lives of two journalists with whom he used to be close.

South Africa: President Zuma has brought 14 large defamation claims totalling about R60m against the media since 2006.  The Mail and Guardian reports claims that these actions are an “intimidation tactic” and the fact that they have not been pursued shows that the President is not serious about them.

Vietnam:  An appeal court has approved jail sentences for five bloggers – although a number of the sentences were reduced.  The bloggers had been convicted of organising or participating in attempts to overthrow the government.

Next week in the courts

The Courts have a vacation next week.  The Easter legal term ended on 24 May 2013. The  Trinity legal term starts on 4 June 2013.

Next week in Parliament


The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:

Euromoney plc v Aviation News Ltd heard 2 May 2013 (Tugendhat J)

Fox v Boulter, heard 15 May 2013 (Bean J)

Hunt v Times Newspapers, heard 29 and 30 April, 1-3, 7-10, 13, 16 and 17 May 2013 (Simon J)