The most high profile media law story of the week was the trial in Edinburgh of Andy Coulson, who is accused of lying under oath in the 2010 perjury trial of MSP Tommy Sheridan. The prosecution called several former News of the World journalists to give evidence.
James Weatherup, former news editor at the paper, told the Court that hacking phones was “systematic” at the News of the World, and that Coulson “would have known” about it. Mr Weatherup also told the court that he used a hand gesture on two or three occasions in the paper’s news conferences to signal to Coulson that information had come from hacking phones.
The trial also heard from former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, who told the court that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire said that he obtained the voicemail messages of missing Milly Dowler from an unofficial police contact. Mr Thurlbeck said that journalists at the paper therefore believed “that the police were fully aware of this line of inquiry” and that going to them would be a “pointless exercise.”
James Doleman has been tweeting and producing his regular crowd-funded reports of the trial:
- 25 May 2015, Morning, “Coulson knew about Milly Voicemails Court told”
- 25 May 2015, pm, “Andy Coulson Trial, Day 6 Afternoon Report”
- 26 May 2015, “Coulson knew about “Dark Arts”, witness tells court”
The remainder of the week was occupied with legal argument. It will resume on Monday 1 June 2015.
Sun reporter Anthony France has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, after being found guilty over payments to a public official. Judge Timothy Pontius described him as a journalist of “hitherto unblemished character” and “essentially a decent man of solid integrity”.
News UK have indicated that they will not be paying prosecution legal fees for France, which amount to £35,000. Judge Timothy Pontius said he felt it should pay the fees, because of shared responsibility for the crime. Roy Greenslade agreed, arguing that it was “manifestly unfair that France should be expected to stand the costs of an action which resulted from the Sun’s newsroom culture and whose prosecution occurred because its publisher provided the police with its evidence”.
It is reported that Mirror Group Newspapers have now been sued by nearly 100 individuals in the wake of the phone hacking scandal at the titles. Hugh Grant, Liz Hurley and Jemima Khan are among 98 confirmed legal claims made. Roy Greenslade reminds us of the Mirror’s “glee” at the News of the World phone hacking scandal here.
Data Protection and Data Privacy
Emily Carter argues in the Kingsley Napley Public Law Blog that the stakes are increasing when it comes to breaching the Data Protection Act 1998. Increasingly serious consequences include the new provision for compensation claims for distress.
The French data protection authority (CNIL) has unveiled its 2015 inspections plan. Oliver Proust discusses the developments for the Fieldfisher Privacy and Information Law Blog here.
Liane Fong discusses ‘Privacy law and anti-spam: Guidance from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’ for the Dentons Privacy and Data Security Law blog here.
Datonomy has its Cyber Update for the week commencing 22 May 2015.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
It was the legal vacation and there were no statements in open court last week.
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
Alan Rusbridger has stepped down from his role as Guardian editor, handing over to deputy editor Katharine Viner. In 20 years as editor, Rusbridger has seen the paper win newspaper of the year four times at the British Press Awards. Last year it became the first UK newspaper to win the Pulitzer Prize for the Edward Snowden revelations about US state surveillance.
The Sun has been censured by the Ipso after publishing a column making fun of a blind and transgender Labour parliamentary candidate. Trans Media Watch complained to IPSO, with the consent of Emily Brothers, over the Rob Liddle column.
Roy Greenslade argued it could be seen as a landmark decision because it is the first complaint Ipso has accepted from a representative group rather than an individual.
Emily Brothers welcomed the Ipso judgement, but emphasised in an article for Hacked Off that she was yet to receive a genuine apology from The Sun.
The Glasgow Herald was wrong to report that a council leader attempted suicide, according to an Ipso ruling. The newspaper was ordered to publish a correction after Ipso partially upheld a complaint about the accuracy of an article headlined “Cowboys hold few fears for retiring city boss” published on 15 December last year.
The Telegraph Media Group (TMG) made a pre-tax profit of £45.7m in 2014 compared to £57m the previous year, according to audited statements filed with Companies House. A TMG press release said an £8m investment in digital operations had an impact on the operating profit.
The Daily Mail and The Sun have increased their criticism of the BBC this week, accusing them of propping up their “friends in the Left-wing media” and wasting £100,000 on “PR gurus”. The Media Blog refutes both claims here.
Last Week in the Courts
Last week was the legal vacation and we are not aware of any media law cases heard by the vacation judges.
1 July 2015: “Bird & Bird’s Annual Data Protection Update” Bird & Bird, 15 Fetter Lane, London
Please let us know if there are any events you would like to be included on this list by email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
Angolan journalist and anti-corruption activist Rafael Marques de Morais has been found guilty of criminal libel and given a six-month suspended sentence for two years. De Morais was accused of libel after exposing human rights abuses in the diamond-producing northeast province of the country. He said he will stay in the country to help bring about change.
A lawyer who revealed that two jurors in an infamous rape case had visited a crime scene has been awarded $82,000 in a defamation claim against a website. The ZGEEK website had multiple posts attacking the lawyer who exposed the situation.
In the case of Wilson v Coxon (No.2) ( WASC 197) Kenneth Martin J struck out Burstein particulars pleaded in mitigation by the defendant on the basis that they failed to disclose a reasonably arguable defence.
Despite increased public and media attention, the Snowden leaks have thus far failed to generate sustained political debate in Canada. ‘Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era’, is an effort by some of Canada’s leading privacy, security, and surveillance scholars to provide a Canadian-centric perspective on the issues. The book will be launched Thursday, June 4th at 4:00 pm at the University of Ottawa.
A woman has been fined ISK 50,000 (approx. £242.00) for comments she posted on Facebook. Her post suggested the Chairman of Evjar and Miklaholt District Council had been “sucking up” to her neighbour Ólafur Ólafsson after Ólafsson had given the Chairman a gift of a tractor, which she described as “bribery”.
Israeli lawmakers are investigating measures to prevent online defamation after a public servant who killed himself after being accused of racism in a Facebook post that was shared more than 6,000 times. Before taking his own life last weekend, the official wrote a Facebook post rejecting the claim and saying he could not bear the public shame.
Ireland’s media have been prevented from reporting an MP’s speech about a media owner’s banking affairs. The speech by MP Catherine Murphy suggested that the Irish people have been subsidising billionaire Denis O’Brien’s interest payments on massive loans. The extension of the terms of that injunction to cover a parliamentary speech has shocked the Irish media community.
Five partners in a Belfast firm of solicitors have brought a libel action against the Daily Telegraph. The solicitors in the firm of, McCartan Turkington and Breen sued the paper over its coverage of their handling of Paratrooper Lee Clegg’s defence when he was found guilty of murder.
A Russian court has ordered a regional lawmaker to pay 50,000 rubles (£625.00) to an actor in the Oscar-nominated film “Leviathan” in compensation for a derogatory article. The article accused the film’s cast and crew of a lack of patriotism.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has held that the state’s criminal libel law which allows for punishment of up to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $3,000 for libellous statements is unconstitutionally overboard. This leaves only 13 states with viable criminal defamation laws.
The ex-husband of a woman convicted of killing her 8-year-old son has filed a defamation lawsuit against her, saying her testimony at trial ruined his reputation. The suit came as Jordan was sentenced to 18 years in prison for fatally poisoning her autistic child.
Research and Resources
- European Data Protection Regulation and the New Media Internet: Mind the Implementation Gaps, University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 30/2015, David Erdos
- First Amendment Cosmopolitanism, Skepticism, and Democracy
Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 76, No. 3, 2015, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-309, Timothy Zick, SSRN.
- Big Data: Big Challenges to Privacy and Data Protection, International Scholarly and Scientific Research & Innovation 9(1) 2015, Abu Bakar Munir Sr., Siti Hajar Mohd Yasin and Firdaus Muhammad-Sukki, SSRN
Next week and Next Term in the courts
There is one application next week, on 4 June 2015, in the case of Ali-Harrath v Mollazdeh .
There are two trials listed this term:
Starr v Ward, listed for 15 days beginning on 15 June 2015. There is a report concerning the background to the case in the Daily Mail.
Shakil-ur-Rahman v ARY Network Ltd, listed for one and a half days, beginning on 1 July 2015.
The following reserved judgment in media law cases are outstanding:
Pinard-Byrne v Linton, heard 22 April 2015 (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council)
Masters v Palmer, heard 5 May 2015 (HHJ Moloney QC)
Stocker v Stocker, heard 7 May 2015 (Warby J)
Ma v St George’s NHS Trust, heard 8 May 2015 (HHJ Moloney QC)
Otuo v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, heard 14 May 2015 (HHJ Moloney QC).
This Round Up was compiled by Tessa Evans, a journalist and researcher. She tweets @tessadevans