On 15 February 2018, a letter my lawyers sent three days ago, was the subject of extraordinary and sensational reporting. Most notably, the Daily Mail has given it the full treatment, describing it as a “chilling attack on press freedom” and referring to me not least as a “bitter deviant vengeful bully”.
I accept that any attempt by me to respond will be partly futile, given the reach of the newspaper groups I am challenging, and partly self-defeating given their attacks upon any contrary view.
Nevertheless, I thought I should try and attempt to respond.
As is fairly well known, back in 2008, I successfully sued Murdoch’s News of the World for secretly filming a private party attended by me and five women. The paper published the pictures together with lurid and untrue allegations.
After a four day trial, during which it emerged that the newspaper’s chief reporter had tried to blackmail two of the women, the judge found in my favour, ruling the party was private and there was no public interest in the story which should never have been published.
During the ten years that followed, Rupert Murdoch’s and Viscount Rothermere’s newspapers have repeatedly republished references to the party which the judge had said were not in the public interest.
They do this every time I am considered to have annoyed them. It reached a crescendo just over a year ago when the independent press regulator, Impress, was recognised by the independent Press Recognition Panel.
Impress was found to have complied with the criteria laid down by an independent judge, Sir Brian Leveson, following a Public Inquiry.
The Government subsequently launched a public consultation on s40 which provides the mechanisms for incentivising newspapers to join a recognised regulator and on continuing with the second part of the Leveson Inquiry.
The recognition of Impress infuriated much of the press. It meant that their tactic of setting up so-called press regulator, IPSO, wholly owned and controlled by them, might not succeed.
The existence of Impress meant that the incentives for joining a recognised regulator could be brought into operation and that genuinely independent press regulation might become a reality.
A campaign of great ferocity was then launched against me personally because Impress was funded by a charity which, in turn, was funded by our family charity.
Because of this, the newspapers claimed that I controlled Impress. Yet they knew that this was not true.
They deliberately ignored the detailed evidence published and freely available on the relevant websites which made it absolutely clear I could not influence, much less control, Impress.
These newspapers had a clear strategy of attempting to discredit Impress by falsely claiming I controlled it and repeatedly referring to the old News of the World story in an attempt to smear me and Impress by association.
Storing and repeatedly publishing false information, such as the claim that I control Impress, together with information that has been ruled to be not in the public interest, like the News of the World story, are precisely the sort of abuses the Data Protection Act is there to prevent.
Contrary to their cries of foul-play, the Data Protection Act has been used in media cases for many years.
It seems to me that I should do everything I can to ensure that reporting on the subject of press regulation is accurate and lawful, given that the newspapers’ self-interest prevents any balanced debate.
It’s extraordinary that the Daily Mail, who are famous for their bullying and abusive conduct, should use two whole pages to whine because my lawyers have pointed out the illegality of their conduct and made it clear that we are prepared to sue them if necessary.
And it’s disappointing that the Times, supposedly a paper of record, should use its front page and first leader to complain about an attempt to stop it wrongfully publishing private and false information.
It is simply untrue to assert, as it does in its first leader column, that I am seeking to prevent the public from knowing how Impress is funded. The reverse is true: I am seeking to ensure that they report this accurately.
If the Daily Mail and the Times think that they have good legal arguments then you might have expected them to put these into legal letters in reply.
But rather than advancing legal arguments their immediate response is to use their pages to attack someone who dares to call their abusive behaviour into question. This is not the behaviour of the responsible free press that we hear so much about. It is the behaviour of the petty playground thug.
Six times since the Second World War the newspapers have promised to clean up their act. Six times they have gone back to business as usual as soon as things calmed down.
Now with massive ongoing litigation about phone hacking, illegal blagging, misuse of private detectives, unlawful surveillance and the destruction of evidence, they still think it’s OK for them to “mark their own homework” as Sir Brian Leveson put it.
Quite clearly we desperately need Impress or, indeed, any other independent Leveson-compliant regulator and the legal mechanisms to facilitate it.
No amount of lies and misconduct by sections of the press can conceal that.
This article originally appeared in the Press Gazette, it is reproduced with the permission of the author.