30.4.04

German broadcaster cleared of deception

German interactive quiz channel 9 Live has been cleared of misleading and deceiving its audiences. A consumers association had taken the channel to court amid complaints from the public that they had faced big phone bills following unsuccessful calls to join in one of 9 Lives games.

The consumers association couldn't back up its claims and lost its case in the Leipzig county court. Similar proceedings in Munich have now been dropped by prosecutors there.

9 Live or 'neun live' as it is also known, recently got into the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest running TV Quiz! report HERE

Munich prosecutors drop case (in German)

Campbell case - Lords to give judgment on May 6th

The much awaited judgment from the House of Lords in Naomi Campbell's privacy appeal against the Mirror is due to be released next Thursday 6th May. The Beak will be back with a full comment and analysis of the judgment and what it means for privacy laws.

29.4.04

Laundry Label Libel

Could a laundry label containing a defamatory statement be libellous? Seattle based bag maker Tom Bihn which manufactures 'bags for laptop computers and other stuff' has seen sales soar after word got out that the laundry labels on these products contained a hidden message.

As reported on Reuters the washing instructions on the labels are accompanied by the French text "nous sommes desoles que notre president soit un idiot. Nous n'avons pas vote pour lui" which means "we are sorry that our president is an idiot. We did not vote for him"

It's not clear whether this refers to George W. Bush or Jacques Chirac and to avoid any liability Tom Bihn claims to have no idea how this sentiment found its way onto the bag tags and suggests that it is probably a reference to him as president of his own company. Yes, we believe you Tom.

It's unlikely that the label sufficiently identifies either president to make it libellous but there would always be the fair comment defence.

MB has checked out the bags and they do look rather good:
Check them out HERE

Law in the media: Boozy barrister in court battle over Bootsie

The Mirror has picked up on this delightful court case between two barristers locked in an acrimonious property dispute following the demise of their turbulent relationship.

Kerry Cox is suing her erstwhile lover and fiancee Lawrence Jones for substantial sums she claims she is owed from joint ownership of property in Lincolns Inn and Essex. Their engagement lasted three years before she broke off the relationship in 2001 following what she claimed was 'alcohol-fuelled aggression and violence' on the part of a boozy Mr Jones.

Mr Jones denies she has any ownership of either property both of which are in his name and claims he broke off their engagement after just a few weeks. His complaint was not about booze but about a certain Alsatian dog called 'Bootsie' that was owned by Miss Cox and behaved in what he told the court was an 'uncontrollable and unacceptable' manner.

Further evidence was led in relation to a 20 thousand pound engagement ring and Cox's 'outrageous advances' towards the Australian cricket team and 'blatanlty sexual behaviour' with another barrister outside the couple's flat.

They don't come much better than this - the case continues.

Related news: Alcohol fuels violent crime rise

28.4.04

Big bill after Irish politician loses long-standing libel battle

Beverly Cooper-Flynn has learnt her lesson for not cutting her losses after losing her libel case against Irish state broadcaster RTE and retired farmer, James Howard back in 2001. The Fianna Fail politician had taken action against them following allegations that while employed by National Irish Bank she had encouraged customers to avoid paying taxes.

The High Court found her evidence in support of her libel claim to be 'irrelevant' and dismissed the action. She was at that stage already facing a 2 million pound bill. Undeterred she sought to appeal which given that her initial evidence was deemed irrelevant seemed a bit optimistic (how could it be made to be relevant on appeal?). The Supreme Court was similarly unimpressed by the argument her lawyers presented and dismissed the appeal. Cooper-Flynn did not contest liability for the costs which will make a substantial addition to her existing 2 million bill.

She also faces expulsion from her party.

Full report from RTE here

27.4.04

Huntley snapper case dropped

As reported on MB (below) News of the World reporter David McGee was in court this week charged with violations of the 1952 Prison Act for having smuggled a camera into prison (without permission) where he took what became front page pictures of Ian Huntley in jail.

In what McGee's editor hailed as a victory for common sense, the judge dismissed the action saying that the interpretation of the rules under which McGee had been charged was too wide to be of sustainable application.

Counsel for McGee, Andrew Nicol QC illustrated the point by suggesting that the rules (had the judge allowed them to be so interpreted) would even render someone's underpants in breach of them if they did not have prior permission to wear or take them into prison.

MB notes that there was no need to argue the public interest point in this case as it ultimately came down to the decsription it deserved namely, pants!

BBC report HERE
Guardian Media report HERE

26.4.04

Close shave leaves Beckham quids in

If reports in today's media are true then Becks has escaped from his torrid text saga and cut himself a new sponsorship deal with Gillette to promote their razors. Whether he uses them on his head is anyones guess but at a reported 40 million pounds it has to be the best deal a man can get - and makes the million Loos has netted from her dirt dishing pale into insignificance.

So much for fears that his corporate sponsors might take a dim view of publicity surrounding his private life - Vodafone are also likely to be pleased with his hands-on approach to promoting their phones!

Meanwhile Real Madrid are not as keen on the off-pitch publicity that follows the Beckham brand - though that didn't seem to stop them selling billboard space to a spanish gossip mag trailing ads for their 'exclusive' with rent-a-girl Sarah Marbeck.
If your spanish is up to it you can read the racy story in INTERVIU

Snapper in court for prison pics

David McGee, the News of the World reporter who managed to get himself a job as a prison warder at Woodhill high security prison in Buckinghamshire where he took undercover photographs of Soham murderer Ian Huntley, is up in front of Milton Keynes magistrates today.

McGee's exposee caused outrage after he showed how easy it was to get a job in a prison and look after high risk prisoners such as Huntley.

He was subsequently charged on two counts under section 41 of the 1952 Prison Act.

It will be interesting to see if the charges - which McGee denies - are upheld and the case proceeds. There is a public interest and accompanying line of argument in defence for such undercover journalism. In this case it exposed just how easy it was to get a job in the prison and how slack security checks were.

In a similar case last year, Mirror reporter Ryan Parry got a job as a footman in the royal household. His exposee ended with legal action for breach of confidence and the recent announcement about tightening up of security checks on royal staff.

Both won awards at this year's British Press Awards

More HERE and HERE

23.4.04

Sex, lies and pointless people

As if we hadn't seen and heard enough of Rebecca Loos - who attracted the scorn of the stars with her crass appearance at this week's Kill Bill premiere in London - she is now also in talks with Playboy who say she is a number one choice for a centrefold.

Whether she gets her kit off for them or not her claims to have bedded Becks are certainly paying off. Her earnings from her torrid text tales are rapidly approaching the million pound mark following her vapid interview on Sky and Channel 4 sofa chat with Richard and Judy.

Never one to shy from sex, sleaze and sensation (that pays), Max Clifford, who was Loos natural choice as agent, is negotiating with Playboy who in addition to splashing her in their illustrious publication are also keen to get her doing a dirty dance routine for their tv channel. Whether they stump up the six figure sum Loos is looking for remains to be seen but as the media give Posh and Becks a well deserved break it could be that in Playboy Loos has finally found her level. By all accounts Sarah Marbeck who is now in London to try and cash-in on her 'story' has plenty experience to teach Loos how to pole dance.

While Loos gets set to expose herself a similarly classy socialite is busy trying to prevent a tape of her sex antics being released. Hotel heiress Paris Hilton is already in litigation with an internet firm who she is suing for 30 million dollars after it released a video of her having sex with her former boyfriend. Rick Salomon has struck a deal with Red Light District Video (an LA porn production company) and given them the rights to produce the video.

Perfectly titled "One Night In Paris" is set to hit the shelves of the type of stores that stock theses films some time in June.

22.4.04

Libel award for Mr Bean

Whether as Blackadder or Mr Bean the award winning comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson has never been 'on the edge of a nervous breakdown' as the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday had suggested at the end of last year.

The unfounded and unsubstantiated suggestions which Atkinson referred to as contributing towards stigmatising mental health issues, landed Associated Newspapers in the High Court (again).

Atkinson has said he will donate the proceeds from the undisclosed damages award to a mental health charity.

Red card for Ron the racist

Whether or not the microphone was live is no excuse for Ron Atkinson's remarks about Marcel Desailly's performance in the Monaca v Chelsea match. While ITV apologised for the remarks which were not meant to have been broadcast there was nothing Ron could say to justify him saying "He's what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy thick nigger". Even by footballing standards this was a shocker and ITV was swift to accept Mr Atkinson's resignation.

What he called an uncharacteristic outburst has also led to him losing his column in the Guardian - "by mutual agreement". A view about a players performance can be seen as free speech but the level or racism in Atkinson's remark questions whether it is appropriate for him to be allowed to share his comments with media audiences.

More HERE

21.4.04

Not much ado about My Foetus

As reported on MB (5.04.04) Channel 4 was bracing itself for a backlash of complaints for screening 'My Foetus'. The programme made by Julia Black - who previously had an abortion but gave the featured foetus a lucky break by carrying it to term - was the first time an abortion had actually been shown on british TV.

Previous attempts by the Pro Life Alliance to show such disturbing sights in its 1997 election broadcast were banned and became a cause celebre all the way to the House of Lords (who upheld the ban).

While 1.5 million viewers tuned in to see what all the fuss was about, the supposedly shocking sight only outraged 10 viewers enough to complain.

It was good to break the taboo and in doing so Channel 4 was right to show the programme but whether it will contribute much to debate is questionable. It was true to its title and very much about Ms Black's foetus. Rather than opening up the debate it was more of a cathartic journey for the film-maker who was now happily pregnant and wanted to justify her previous abortion to herself - and presumably her audience.

The most pertinent comments came from the doctor she interviewed who openly did not like the procedure but was pragmatic in his approach. His view was that he was carrying out abortions for the benefit of the foetuses as it would be more cruel to bring them to term and into a world where they were not wanted and perhaps even subjected to cruelty and other forms of abuse.

As the Monty Python song goes 'every sperm is sacred' but given the complexities of modern day life we have to question whether society should adopt such a sanctimonious approach over what should be clinical decisions.

20.4.04

Damages awarded for legal website libel

The Lawyer.com has issued an unreserved apology and paid undisclosed damages to solicitor Andrew Milne over an article accusing him of lying to the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee during its investigation into the financial affairs of MP Keith Vaz.

Under the banner "Law Firm denies Vaz Payout" the article had suggested Mr Milne's evidence had not been entirely truthful. Following legal action (never a good idea to libel lawyers!) the article was swiftly removed from the web site and an unreserved apology issued.

Lawyer.com is owned by Centaur Communications

This case goes to show - lawyers are not above the law - Lawyer.com should have got advice from MediaBeak and saved itself this costly suit!

16.4.04

Scots papers threatened with prosecution after naming teenage murder suspect

The Edinburgh Evening News and Aberdeen Press and Journal could face prosecution or comtempt charges after naming the 15 year old boy accused of the murder of Jodi Jones. Jodi, who was 14 at the time, went missing near the town of Dalkeith on the outskirts of Edinburgh in June last year.

As HoldTheFrontPage reports, the papers claim they acted within the law in naming the 15 year old. The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act prevents suspects under the age of 16 being named but as the papers are arguing, this applies to "proceedings in a court" and not to the period before.

section 47 of the Act HERE

The 1981 Contempt of Court Act will also not apply as this relates to 'active' proceedings and at the time the papers published the proceedings were not yet active (i.e. someone had been arrested). Both papers headlined the story in which they named the boy on Wednesday before he'd been arrested and charged. They deliberately did not publish details online as this may have allowed the naming to run into 'active' time.

Whether common law contempt may apply is questionable as the procurator fiscal would have to show that the papers intended to cause prejudice in relation to imminent proceedings. Given the high level of public outrage and the interest in the case it could be argued that the public had the right to know and in naming the boy the paper was not putting the trial at risk.

It will be interesting to see if proceedings are issued against the papers. If so, then the crown office and procurator fiscal have clearly formed the view that section 47 of the Criminal Procedure Act does cover the pre-trial part of proceedings.

More HERE and HERE

Loos live on Sky

The best bits of an otherwise boring interview - HERE

15.4.04

Beckham bashing - will Sky be stopped from screening Loos' side of the story?

Malicious, mad or making it all up? - Rebecca Loos has certainly upped her game and challenged Beckham to see her in court. She will be seen telling us what she says is 'the truth 100 per cent' on Sky 1 at 10pm this evening (MB notes: what would the truth 70 per cent be?) - that is unless Andrew Thompson from Beckham's lawyers Lee & Thompson manages to secure a last minute deal or obtain an injunction preventing Sky from showing their prime time sensation.

Apparently Ms Loos knows something secret about Beck's tackle that she thinks will substantiate her story (and presumably a court will believe!) so either she is calling Beckham's bluff or she really is the posh girl who dethroned Posh. Either way she has the upper hand and the king and queen of self-publicity have been left cowering in a corner.

As was commented in Media Guardian - if Becks has nothing to hide then he should be suing the socks - or in Loos' case, the white thong - off not just her but the dubious character that is Sarah Marbeck and the media.

The best the Beckham legal camp has so far advanced is the threat of a breach of confidence action based on the fact Loos had signed a confidentiality agreement with SFX where she worked for Beckham. Media Beak squawks in anguish at this legal approach which is as lame as Buckingham Palace's tour de force against the Mirror and Ryan Parry for their pictures of Her Majesty's breakfast table.

If Becks has nothing to hide then bring on the defamation claims. Lets see some serious litigation and secure an injunction preventing Sky's screening. Faced with a defamation claim Sky and Loos would have to prove to a judge that they would be able to provide evidence (if not immediately then at least by the time the case came to trial) supporting their statements. So if Loos is a liar then she'd be smoked out and the screening stopped.

So as the clock ticks closer to 10pm and we've not seen a writ winging its way from the High Court then we can safely assume that either Becks has not had the best legal advice - given its Andrew Thompson that is highly improbable - or he has something to hide. That 'something' need not be the full sexy sensations Loos has talked about but could just be incriminating yet not conclusive carelessness (which to give Becks the benefit of the doubt is more likely).

If all is not what it seems then a breach of confidence action would be the compromise - Loos was a former employee and bound by a confidentiality clause and so should not be talking about Beckham's private life. Well it won't take a genius or a lawyer to figure out that with what Loos is being paid for her story and the Sky interview she might just be willing to risk a breach of confidence suit. A successful claim against her for breach of confidence will not come as expensive as a libel claim would and the way things are going she'd probably get her legal fees paid by the paper that secures her next exclusive.

Meanwhile the Sarah Marbeck saga just gets sleazier. She's gone from poor deluded victim of Beck's predatory passion to a street-wise call-girl who's up for most things and not shy to sell herself or her story. As her daddy rushed off to see her in Sydney he may well be regretting selling the press his story and upset at how Becks had allegedly treated his daughter. Loos aside the Marbecks have to be due a libel writ or two by now!? Even if Loos and Marbeck didn't share Beckham, as the tabloids tell us they certainly enjoyed the same things from thongs to threesomes, boys to girls and baring bums and boobs in public. Even if the Beckham affair were to turn out not to be ture these girls surely deserve a place on Footballers Wives!

So with Posh and the kids running for cover lets wait and see if Becks bites back or crawls back with a breach of confidence action.

More HERE and 'Becks made me feel like a million dollars'HERE
BBC's top tips for the rich on how to handle scandal HERE

For celebrities in need of a good media lawyer to help them manage a scandal e-mail:
mediabeak@yahoo.co.uk where the beak will put you in touch with the best.

14.4.04

Rough scenes on Rough Justice - are pictures of the dying taboo?

The BBC is going ahead and screening it episode of Rough Justice that shows shocking CCTV footage of 37 year old Christopher Alder dying on the floor of a police station.

The former paratrooper had become aggressive while receiving treatment for injuries caused by a fight outside a nightclub. Police removed him from hospital and took him to Queens Garden police station in Hull where they proceeded to stand by and accuse him of play-acting while he sprawled on the floor suffering a heart attack. The footage shows his 11 minutes of distress and he was left on the same floor with no medical assistance for a further 8 hours before finally being checked over and pronounced dead.

No surprise that the police were not going to release the pictures but having obtained them elsewhere and received backing from Mr Alder's family who were left outraged and disgusted by what they saw, the BBC decided to show them.

An inquest cleared the police of wrongdoing but failed to answer key questions as to how Alder's condition had rapidly deteriorated in police custody and why the police van and clothing were cleaned before anything potentially incriminating could be found.

Aside from the theme of the programme - namely investigating deaths, especially of black people, in police custody - the decision to show Alder's death carries its own controversy. Media normally don't publish or broadcast pictures of people dying - the Mirror attracted record level of complaints to the PCC when it front-paged Marc-Viven-Foe being stretchered off the pitch in France after suffering a fatal collapse. The BBC also attracted complaints after showing pictures of murdered british soldiers in Iraq.

While we are presented with plentiful pictures of war and death on our screens and in our papers, there seems to be a taboo about showing anything too real or too close to home. In this case Alder's family wanted the pictures to be shown to let the public see how shocking they were but this will not always be the case.

It presents an increasingly difficult question for editors over the limits of what to show. The public has a right to know and should be told about miscarriages of justice or the true extent of war but do they need the pictures to go with it? In this case the answer was yes and the BBC were right to screen the CCTV pictures. Where relatives don't give their consent and are likely to be seriously upset then a finer balance needs to be struck such that the upset caused to family can be justified by a compelling need for the public to be informed. Arguably, when it came to the pictures of war the BBC's judgement was less astute.

13.4.04

TEXT'n'TELL that sells could prove headache for libel lawyers

We've had all the headlines in the 'text-it like Beckham' saga and as more maggots provide comment for the media's feeding frenzy we have to ask where this will all end.

Tabloid editors couldn't want for better material and are happy to pay friends of friends of people who may or may not have at some stage been in the presence of - or as is alleged - bedded Beckham for their 'stories'. As it moves into its second week the media onslaught shows no sign of slackening pace.

So why has all this surfaced now? - the whole thing seems too well orchestrated to be a chance kiss-and-tell and given the sums of money exchanging hands behind the scenes it suggests a concerted campaign rooted in a desire for money and revenge. Max Clifford steps in to protect poor Rebecca Loos from these terrible attacks on her character .... and now we have Sarah Marbeck's daddy defending his daughter's integrity ... perhaps some of the public may be fooled but the media are playing a well rehearsed game.

It is however a game that could prove a gamble if the Beckhams proceed with their threat to start suing. A quick spot of supper at Claridges, some quad biking and happy smiles can't hide what's at stake. Not just their marriage but more importantly (possibly also to them) is their brand value and all those lucrative deals they have going. No surprise then that its Victoria B's agency '19 management' who are taking control of matters and issuing the statements. With the News of the World (amongst others) staunchly defending it stands behind its reports the stakes are getting high and the play could get nasty.

If David Beckham is playing a clean game and is innocent then there's no reason not to get out the big guns and litigate. If however things are not all as 'unsubstantiated' as they claim, Beckham's legal team will have to think as strategically as legally when it comes to taking action.

To a cynical lawyer (not that MediaBeak is such!) the carefully crafted phrase 'unsubstantiated' does not equate with not true but rather not proven. This technicality translates into a subtle yet crucial point when it comes to a defamation action. If the Beckhams litigate it would be for the likes of Ms Loos, Sarah Marbeck or those 'publishing' their stories to prove that they are true (and an interested public will not provide any public interest defence here!).

In the absence of photographic, DNA or reliable third party evidence all we seem to have are transcripts of alleged text messages.

Lets look at some background information:
DNA from a SIM card containing incriminating text was admitted as vital evidence in case against Real IRA bombers at the Old Bailey last year.

A recent survey by a top Italian private investigation agency Tomponzi reveals that mobile phones and text messages are to blame for revealing nearly 90 per cent of extra-marital affairs.

Text messages cannot be retrieved if deleted from both parties phones however if they remain on one or if they are available via a text-to-e-mail service such as Vodafone Mail then they can be traced.

Mobile phone companies can trace the numbers from and to which messages are sent and can be compelled by a court of law to provide such information.

So what does this mean for Beckham. Well unless Ms Loos or Marbeck can provide some physical evidence of their alleged affairs with Beckham then they seem to be relying on the text messages. If Beckham sued for libel based on their stories they would have to prove the content of the various messages to substantiate their claim that he was cheating on his wife with them and so rebut the libel claim. We have been presented with some fabulously lurid text messages attributed to Beckham but can these be proved. Allegedly contemporaneous notes were made of some of these messages but proving that they were authentic, came from Beckham's phone and were truly contemporaneous would not be easy.

A further question is how did they have his number or he have theirs? in the case of Ms Loos it is answered by the fact she previously worked with the Beckhams. This could complicate matters as she may be able to prove the receipt of text messages from his phone but that does not of itself prove the content. Added to this is the fact that he has several phones and these may have been used by others. There was a case in 2002 where a recipient of a sexual text message traced it back to a phone owned by the Norwegian prime minister but as it turned out it was his driver who had sent it.

So if the Beckham's decide to sue then it will be interesting to see if Beckham still says 'it's great to get my hands on this new Vodafone Live!'

Clean-up at Clear Channel

As previously reported on MB, the spectre of Janet Jackson's nipple at the superbowl has got US media giants running scared of tough regulatory clamp-downs if they don't clean up their act.

So it should come as no surprise that Howard Stern was hardly compatible with any such policy and faced with a fine of just under half a million dollars for comments on his show, Stern was dropped from six of the channel's radio stations (his show still survives on over 30 further stations!).

Stern's show has not been the only casualty, having been swiftly followed by Atlanta WKLS programme 'The Regular Guys'. In a bid to disguise smutty content the show's hosts had produced a segment called 'backward smut' where they played a recording of a porn star talking backwards. Nice try had they not forgotten to take down the sound when they went to an ad break and listeners were able to hear them discussing the smut in a more forward manner. The two presenters were promptly sacked.

So the clear message from Clear Channel is that it wishes to become the clean channel.

US Senator tries to block Gmail

As reported by MB (see blog 6.04.04) Privacy Campaigners are outraged by the invasive potential of Google's new e-mail service 'Gmail'.

The service would allow messages to be electronically scanned and then send out marketing based on any word triggers within the mail (e.g. mentioning sickness or a disease would prompt a raft of ads for drugs or health insurance etc)

As reported by the BBC Democratic Senator Liz Figueroa is putting forward draft legislation in her home state of California in a bid to prevent Google going ahead with what she sees as 'an invasion of privacy'.

See MB below for more or click here

7.4.04

Costly correspondence - the letter that collapsed the Tyco trial

Those proud of UK contempt laws may well sit back bemused as one of the largest corporate corruption trials in the US collapses after an 'angry' yet non-threatening letter is sent to a juror. Former bosses at Tyco were in the doc having been accused of misappropriating some 600 million dollars.

The jury in the trial were at the deliberation stage and media attention was - as its allowed to do in the US - focussing on which way the jury were likely to go. Having mistakenly believed that a mistrial had already been declared our angry outsider wrote to one of the jurors to express their dislike of the fact Juror Number 4 - a Ruth Jordan - seemed set to acquit the accused. Problem was, the trial was still active and so after a protracted and expensive six month court case the New York Supreme Court was forced to declare a mistrial. Expensive letter that!

This has left the proceedings in tatters but surprisingly reports suggest police will not be charging the letter writer with jury tampering because of their innocent mistake. (MB says - don't try this at home folks!)

Meanwhile our now famous juror was quoted in the New York Times and will be on prime time CBS News (tonight) saying she would have acquitted the two Tyco types.

Great court action from the US!
more HERE and HERE

Gilligan back on air

The government may have used the Hutton Inquiry to silence some of its critics but the final word may yet rest with the media. While Greg Dyke is preparing to host the BBC's 'Have I got News for You' - story HERE - Andrew Gilligan will be fronting a documentary on Channel 4 next month. An inspired choice for an inspired subject matter, Gilligan will be examining the reliability and trustworthiness of our security services (so if it wasn't before then his card is surely marked as far as MI5 and MI6 are concerned!). If the producers have a sense of adventure then we'll hopefully see David Shayler and Katherine Gunn join in Gilligan's 30 minutes of fun thereby completing a line up sure to please TB and Captain Scarlett.

More HERE and Gilligan's BBC resignation speech HERE

6.4.04

Attorney General gets heavy with the press as Mirror and Sun banned from publishing pictures of terror suspects

As reported on Media Guardian, Lord Goldsmith is playing hardball with the press again as he seeks to protect the justice process from too much press interest. Having blasted papers over Soham and warned editors over the Gorsvenor House incident last year he has this week urged the media to 'exercise restraint' over their coverage of suspected terrorism detainees. As if some of the legislation and David Blunkett's comments don't give rise to enough concern, the Attorney General wants to ensure he can at least attempt to keep the media in check when it comes to terrorist suspects.

Surely the public has a right to know and the media a right to report extensively about people being arrested on suspicion of wanting to blow us up. Conducting inquiries and informing the public in an open fashion is less likely to lead to the hysteria, prejudice and sensationalist headlines Lord Goldsmith is seeking to protect the criminal justice system from.


Costly comment as Mail pays out over Phillips claim

Insider gossip that cannot be substantiated comes at a price if you decide to publish it. The Daily Mail ran a story last October in which it claimed that Fiona Phillips - Eamonn Homes's friendly sofa companion at GMTV - was being squeezed out and having her pay cut. Not so it would seem and the beaming breakfast presenters are seen as the 'core strength' that attracts some 1.2 million viewers. So a pay rise for Fiona while the Daily Mail had to print an apology in today's paper and pay a 'substantial' sum to a children's charity. So the Mail's mistake has at least resulted in one charitable act.

Free e-mail may put privacy at risk

Privacy campaigners are up in arms over Google's latest venture that plans to make vast e-mail space available to the masses. Gmail hopes to rival major players such as Yahoo and Hotmail and offers significantly larger storage space as well as being free from the menace of pop-up ads.

Well what's wrong with that one may ask? The answer is that there is no such thing as a freebie and what Gmail would do - albeit in automated fashion - is have mailcrawlers go through your mail and target yo with ads based on the content of your mail. Well that isn't so good. So instead of pop-ups you'll get bombarded with lots of random mails trying to flog you things based on what a computer thinks your e-mails display an interest in. Stuff privacy, one wouldn't want the annoyance of this.

BUT privacy campaigners do have a point. While individuals are not sifting through our mails the fact that a computer is remains intrusive. If we want our mails scanned or to recieve adverts for goods and services then we want the choice to sugn up for these. You do have a choice - don't sign up for Gmail if you don't like these terms.

The other privacy issue is that Google in offering users such vast server space will retain back-up capability over mails you may have long forgotten about or even deleted - not ideal. Again, this is perhaps a trade-off for the extra storage your getting. Gmail certainly seems to offer users more but this is offset by how much you as a user are willing to give and receive in return. Even if you are happy to compromise your privacy in this way, Google in having the capability to crawl through mail and store archived or deleted mails could well be in breach of both data protection and privacy laws.

More HERE and HERE

5.4.04

The furore over showing foetuses

Channel 4 has defended its position over the screening of a film showing aborted foetuses. Entitled 'My Foetus' the programme which will be broadcast later this month, contains graphic images of a vacuum-pump abortion as well as 10 and 20 week old foetuses. Channel 4 claims the images contained in the film should be viewed within the context of the wider debate surrounding the emotive issue of abortion.

The independent filmmaker behind the production has herself had an abortion and wanted to produce a film that challenged her own pro-choice position and offered a balanced debate about the issues.

The difficulty in striking or resolving such a balance was made clear by the less than satisfactory judgment of the House of Lords last year HERE in Pro-Life Alliance's case against the BBC. There has been a long-standing taboo surrounding showing images of foetuses and highlighting their likeness to miniature babies. People are uncomfortable with things that look too human. The long running battle between Pro-Life and the BBC concerned a film they submitted as their party election broadcast for the last election. It contained similar images to those Channel 4 is proposing to show but was banned by the BBC on taste & decency grounds. Clearly - as was established in the Court of Appeal - freedom of expression should allow such images to be screened and enable the debate it was meant to provoke. However the House of Lords concluded that the BBC were entitled to exercise their discretion in following their guidelines and refuse to broadcast the film. While on a narrow interpretation of the rules concerning the following of guidelines this may be sound it ignores the larger issue. The judges were themselves in disagreement over this and the real answer is perhaps that Pro-Life should have been allowed to freely express their views - though perhaps not within the confines of a 4 minute party election broadcast.

So Channel 4's stance on the matter provides viewers with the debate and lawyers with an answer to the freedom of expression issue. We should show such things but just get the context right. This is what Prash Naik (C4's head of legal) said - "The pro-life film contained 23 images in a 4 minute film ...this film uses 4 images in a 30 minute film which carefully explains the issues."

Hopefully it will achieve its aim of a balanced debate that gets over the taboo and doesn't shock too many sensitive viewers. More HERE and HERE

Nearly nude Morissette stands proud against US censorship

As US broadcasters try to clamp down on that sinful spectre of indecency Alanis Morissette took to the stage at the Canadian 'Juno' music awards in protest over what she describes as 'an era when they're (US broadcasters) scared, when there's lots of fear'.

She didn't quite come up with the bottle to get her clothes off but appeared in a 'nude suit' which came equipped with hair and nipples. Hosting the awards ceremony in this novel attire she said she was proud to be able to stand there and live in a land where 'we're not afraid of the human breast'.

So are US censors running scared. There were some 200,000 complaints about Janet Jackson's escaping nipple at the superbowl but should that warrant a widespread clampdown across a mass market that probably has equal or greater numbers of viewers who enjoy such 'pride' in the body beautiful?

The question is really one of what's shown where and when. A nipple as such is not offensive but there were plenty of american parents who didn't want their kids choking on a half-time hot dog as they watched what was meant to be a music gig at the interval of a sports event. There are certainly more serious matters for censors to worry about.

For Morissette's suit with the real hair click here

2.4.04

Michael makes the grade as BBC boss

After much speculation and a list of both usual and unusual suspects culture secretary Tessa Jowell has finally picked former Channel 4 boss Michael Grade to be the new Chairman of the BBC.

Grade is a popular choice and was quick to promise the license payers some quality TV as he returned to the BBC (where he was in charge of BBC1 before he went off to Channel 4). More here

Sun gets banned from the palace but Kate's out the bag

The Sun may have been banned from taking official snaps of Prince William but that won't stop the story or the pictures. Having taken over from the Mirror as the palace's public enemy the Sun has served up the sensational story about Prince Wils 'housemate' or 'fit Kate' as she's known to her friends. Apparently they have been living together and more than just good firends for some time so it seems naive to think that even the sleepy surrounds of St Andrews could keep this story under wraps.

The Sun says there is a strong public interest in these photographs and you'd be inclined to agree. After the stories circulating about Charles over the last 6 months you'd think the palace would be up for some more positive tittle tattle. As Wils and Kate are both adults is it right that the palace should try to suppress these stories?
sadly the Sun didn't help Charles lighten up on this one.

More here

PCC slams Closer over picture payment

The celebrity magazine ran a story about Louise Woodward who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the US after shaking a baby while working as a nanny. Captioned as "I want to be a lawyer to help people" the article was looking at how Ms Woodward has been turning her life around since her conviction. Rather than take a photograph from a news archive they paid her boyfriend for a recent piccy.

This of course contravenes the PCC code on payments for stories or pictures to confessed criminals or their associates. The PCC ruled that this was indeed a breach even though it was the boyfirend who got the cash. PCC ruling here

This ruling is an interesting contrast to a previous complaint against the Daily Mail which in 1998 had apparently paid Ms Woodward's parents a whopping 40,000 pounds towards their legal fund and for their story. In that case the PCC didn't uphold the complaint as there had been "a clear public interest in questioning the murder conviction".

Strike threat looms heavy over Springfield

There's been some tough talking at Moe's bar in recent weeks as the voices behind the Simpsons have been having a set to with Fox over what they get paid.

Hollywood's Daily Variety reports that the actors have failed to show for their script readings in protest over the time its taking to sort out their contracts. The last round of negotiations in 1998 was eventually settled. Back then they were on 30,000 dollars per episode whcih seems slight compared to the 360,000 an episode they're apparently demanding now and is more than double the 125,000 they are currently earning - that's a lot of doughnuts for Homer!

If the spat drags on then there could be some delays to the next season.

Papers lose libel action over Iraq allegations

Colonel Tim Collins who led the Royal Irish Regiment into Iraq with a widely broadcast battle speech has won undisclosed libel damages over reports in the Sunday Express and Sunday Mirror. The papers had run stories which linked Collins and his soldiers to investigations about Iraqi troops who were alleged to have been gunned down as they surrendered. Collins had been investigated by the Ministry of Defence in relation to other allegations but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Both papers admitted they had got the story wrong and apolgised to Colonel Collins for the "hurt and embarrassment" caused by their respective articles. The papers had basically accused him of trying to conceal war crimes against surrendering Iraqi soldiers.

A spokeseman for Collins who is due to leave the army in August said he was relieved this episode was now over.

The case highlights the risk of running stories like this without proper evidence to support the associations and suggestions being made. It also shows how difficult it can be for independent media to obtain reliable evidence fro the battlefield.

More here