29.12.08

Defamation unlimited - Juicy Campus continues to dish the dirt


What was launched as a gossip forum for US colleges has essentially proved to be a hotbed for defamation. 'Juicy Campus' continues to court controversy, the site operates on a message board system and has even less controls than Facebook or MySpace and essentially encourages students to dish dirt and exchange gossip anonymously. As reported by the Boston Globe this week, postings have included one calling a student 'a disease infested whore' but what that student and others who have been defamed can do about it has yet to be tested. The website may argue that it merely provides the technology and those posting the individual messages are the 'publishers' (albeit anoymously) but at the end of the day the obligation will fall to Juicy Gossip to have some form of moderation to temper the seemingly limitless forum it provides for defaming unsuspecting students.

23.12.08

Daily Star sued by 'girlfriend' of Rhys Jones murderer


The Daily Star ran a story on 19th December that proclaimed “EVIL Sean Mercer’s gobby girlfriend” had received death threats having been quoted as saying Sean Mercer (convicted of killing Rhys Jones) was a “hero”.
Now it appears the “gobby girlfriend”, 18 year old Kelly Marshall, is suing the Star for libel. She vigorously denies the comments attributed to her and says they were lifted from an online report on Sky which had misrepresented what she had said to a reporter. Her lawyers have demanded a public apology and threatened libel action – whether that will offset the death threats she’s said to have received remains to be seen.

20.12.08

Cosmo forced to say sorry to Scarlett


As reported on mediabeak earlier this week, Scarlett Johansson had threatened to sue Cosmopolitan magazine for making up parts of an interview with her. The magazine has yielded to legal pressure and said its sorry - it will also have to be saying it again in its February edition.
MORE

Star pays out for claiming Little Britain’s “gay fatty jokes” caused outrage

The Daily Star has agreed to pay undisclosed libel damages and has published an apology over claims that gay groups in the US were ‘on the warpath’ over the way gays were depicted in the Little Britain USA series. David Walliams and Matt Lucas were said to have been distressed over the wronglful claims that were seen as particularly damaging to their large gay fan base. What is distressing is the image the comedy duo chose for their Christmas cards!

19.12.08

MP's seek libel law reform

Political pressure is mounting for a much needed review of libel laws.
Labour MP Dennis MacShane joined forces with Conservative MP Michael Gove and Norman Lamb from the Lib Dems to demand the government do something to reform the existing law and make it more difficult for ‘libel tourists’ to use UK courts to claim large sums from the press. Speaking in a debate in the Commons this week the three MPs highlighted the importance of free speech and the dangers posed by UK laws that were allowing foreign regimes to extend their censorship and exact punishment through the UK courts.
Justice Minister Bridget Prentice responded by promising various measures including a review of the qualified privilege defence, the abolition of criminal libel and a public consultation on defamation and the internet. The all party Commons media committee is due to conduct a full review of libel laws in 2009.
Mediabeak thinks its high time these matters were addressed and considers there are three areas that need urgent attention:
First, some formalisation of the rules of qualified privilege and the parameters of the public interest defence. This is an important shield for the media that promotes investigative journalism and allows the public to be informed about wrong-doing, corruption and scandals.
Second, more clarity around internet libel and how publication and repetition are treated and liability surrounding them engaged. We’ve moved on from an era where today’s newsprint becomes tomorrow’s chip paper, what appears in print is also online and from the moment a story ‘goes live’ online its reach and effect are limitless. There needs to be better regulation that protects against online ‘wildfire’ of defamatory material while at the same time safeguarding the freedom of the press and the blogging public to share information and engage in free expression.
Thirdly, the forum shopping that allows wealthy ‘libel tourists’ to go media bashing in the UK courts. When an exiled foreign dictator can sue the UK press without setting foot in the UK something is wrong. Those calling the press to account should also, to a reasonable degree, have to account for themselves. The current laws that allow people to cry foul and create a presumption that the press have told untruths place an often disproportionate burden on free expression.

More:
Guardian
Related story

17.12.08

Court reporting - a long overdue look into the family courts

A long overdue light could soon be shone into the dark corners of the family court system. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary has relaxed the existing ban on reporting family proceedings and from April 2009 the media will be given access to and allowed to report on custody, care and divorce proceedings. There will still be the power to exclude the press for certain cases but the basic principle will be that reporting is permitted.
The move has been welcomed by campaigners, notably The Times newspaper which has spearheaded the call for the veil of secrecy to be lifted from the family courts.
MORE
The lack of scrutiny over family proceedings has been a cause of concern and controversy for many years. During the past decade there have been several cases and miscarriages of justice that could have been prevented through greater transparency over what happens in the child welfare cases and the use of ‘expert witnesses’ who give evidence that can have devastating effect on children and their families. While some children have been wrongfully removed from their parents, others have been overlooked. Allowing the media to cast its watchful eye over these family courts will hopefully provide proactive checks and balances that may help prevent some of the distressing headlines that have resulted from the closed courts of the past.
More on Family courts and press scrutiny:
Time to open up

16.12.08

Starlet Scarlett to sue Cosmo


Cosmopolitan magazine has got 2009 off to a bad start by upsetting its January cover girl Scarlett Johansson. The actress claims the magazine has made up much of the article, especially the front cover caption “Why I had to get married” and has threatened legal action.
It appears the cover story is a rehash, cut and paste job (shock horror!) and the ‘interview’ was lifted from a US edition of Cosmopolitan. According to a report on mediaguardian her agent has said that unless the article is retracted Johansson will sue.
Mediabeak says that this sort of practice is sadly commonplace and that even where one is constructing seemingly ‘exclusive’ stories from agency fed reports and interviews there is no excuse for sloppy editorial standards.

12.12.08

Elton John doesn't get to sue over spoof diary


No stranger to the libel courts, Elton John has failed in his latest attempt to make the press pay for not being nice to him. This time it was the Guardian that he’d dragged to court after he took offence to its spoof diary column ‘A peek at the diary of..’ Elton had not appreciated the humour and said it was defamatory. Luckily for the Guardian and common sense Mr Justice Tugendhat threw the case out.
The decision will come as a blow to Elton John who is used to more success in the courtroom having sued the Mail and The Sunday Times in 2006 (over stories about his approach to charity balls he was hosting) and the Sunday Mirror in 1993 (over a story that he was on a diet that involved him regurgitating his food – though the damages awarded in that case were reduced from six figures to £75,000)
The offending ‘Diary’
More on this story

10.12.08

Suicide TV - was Sky right to air the final moments of life?


Sky has come under fire for deciding to show the dying moments of Craig Ewert who suffered from motor neurone disease and decided to end his own life through the services offered by Dignitas in Switzerland.

But was Sky wrong to show the film? No. While it is proper to question and object to the public airing of this personal tragedy, it is equally proper to allow consenting participants to inform the public about the reality that surrounds the decision of a terminally ill person to end their own life.

The moral debate may rage as to whether one should be seen to condone assisted suicide but at the end of the day what society needs to come to terms with is that it has no pre-ordained right to prevent a sentient but suffering individual from using modern medical method to alleviate their suffering (even though that may be through bringing about their own death). Surely as a society we have no right to force people to suffer if such suffering can be alleviated? The thorny moral issue is whether the recognition of the right to ones own human rights of self respect, self expression and dignity extend to the decision to end ones life. This goes against the grain of much religious teaching and traditional laws that have their basis aligned with religious doctrine.

Back to the media angle and it is precisely the fact that this debate is so controversial and has not been resolved that legitimises programmes that offer insight into the conflicting and difficult issues that are at stake.
Under UK law, aiding, abetting or attempting to commit suicide are criminal offences but the law was passed decades ago and does not reflect the fact that there is a distinction between 'suicide' and a sentient decision to take control over ones own destiny and dignity.

Why Sky was right to air the programme:
The issue is topical. The participants provided consent. The programme was the first to televise the run-up to and point of death - making the whole process real. Yes, Sky was right to air the programme as it addresses fundamental issues in relation to human autonmomy and the right to the same level of dignity and protection at the end of life as exists and is legally upheld at the bginning.

7.12.08

Madge sues Mail on Sunday

Freshly divorced Madonna didn't take kindly to the Mail on Sunday's decision to remind her of her wedding day by publishing a batch of previously unseen pictures taken by a sneaky insider.
The paper bought the pictures for £5,000 but is being sued by Madonna for £5m - a bit of an uplift and judging by the latest newspaper circulation figures not that great a retun on investment.
Faced with Mr Justice Eady in the High Court, the paper decided not to try to persuade him to reverse the trend of his recent judgments in relation to privacy and admitted both invasion of privacy and breach of copyright. So onlookers have been deprived of a re-run of the Douglas v Hello case!
How much the paper will have to pay as compensation and punishment for its misdemeanour will be made known in the new year.

More from The Times.

News of the World continues to bait Gordon Ramsay


Not satisfied with the damage two weeks of its Ramsay’s bedroom nightmares coverage has achieved, the News of the World continues to recoup the hefty fee it paid Sarah Symonds by reprinting its headlines and reminding readers that its circulation is beating its rivals. There were at least two 'ads' in this week's editions that used the Ramsay exposee front page to promote the NoW's credentials. They might not have managed to prevent publication but Ramsay's PR machine has achieved the best damage limitation it could hope for by refusing to be drawn or respond to the 'suggestions'. NoW might be able to prove that he knows Symonds but beyond that its down to hearsay - if his slate is clean he'll let things die down and sue NoW for libel for good measure - if it all fizzles out then both sides will have used reasonable doubt to their advantage.

FIVE pays out over discrimination claim


Channel Five is reported to have reached a settlement in the discrimination case brought against the broadcaster by veteran presenter Selina Scott. While Five has maintained that details of the deal are confidential, it is understood that Scott is to receive around £250,000 to compensate her after Five decided to offer the job of being Natasha Kaplinski’s maternity cover to younger presenters. To secure this level of settlement Scott must have put forward a persuasive argument that shows age was the determining factor behind the decision to choose other presenters ahead of herself.

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1.4.08

Meredith Kercher killing: Ethics of displaying pictures of crime scenes that sell



The suspects in the murder of Meredith Kercher have launched a further bid to persuade a court to allow them bail pending the ongoing investigation into the brutal killing of the British student slain in the Italian town of Perugia last year. With much explaining to do about DNA and other scientific evidence found at the crime scene, the accused are maintaining their protest that some mysterious murderer had passed among them and they are actually innocent. While there has been plenty speculation about the case and the accused in the press and through online forums, that did not prepare Kercher's family or viewers for the footage that a regional Italian producer saw fit to broadcast on the evening of 31st March 2008.
Somehow a regional television station based near Perugia had obtained images of Meredith Kercher's bloodstained body and decided it was acceptable to show it as part of their documentary into her death.

With Kercher's parents threatening to sue the TV station, the question arises as to what can be done to prevent such audience and ratings seeking sensational footage. What purpose is served by showing the corpse of someone so brutally murdered - this is no Crime Stoppers reconstruction but the real thing. How did the production company obtain the footage and how could a broadcaster clear it for transmission?

This is effectively the news or current affairs equivalent to a snuff movie and unquestionably distressing for the victim's family or anyone who knew her. In the UK there are regulatory guidelines that govern what can be shown on television and what is appropriate in what context. In this case the Italian broadcaster and production company could operate with no reference to the rules that apply in the UK. Further, they could also take the cynical view that as she was dead, they could output anything to do with Kercher without complaint.

The dead have no privacy or reputation when it comes to the law UNLESS one can show that by violating the respect one would normally and morally confer on the deceased one is also violating the rights of relatives or others still living who can legally claim a cause of action as a result of the insensitive reporting of the fate of their relatives. This case again highlights the impotence of the law to protect victims and their families from the 'sales value' of their misery.

26.3.08

Libel: Pressure to change unfair conditional fee regime

Press and pressure groups are lobbying for changes to the rules governing the 'no win no fee' regime - otherwise known as 'conditional fee agreements' under which lawyers take on a case - typically libel or privacy - on the basis that if they lose the client pays no fee (against which the lawyers take out insurance) but if they win then they are entitled to an uplift (of up to 100%) on what would be their normal fee. This cost is passed on to the losing party. The media have complained that this puts unjust pressure on them to settle claims that they might otherwise have fought.

The idea behind no win no fee or CFA agreements is laudible - it stemmed from personal injury cases and was designed to provide those who otherwise could not afford it - but had a legitimate claim - access to justice to seek compensation for the harm they had suffered. It made for, ususally, win-win situations whereby a someone who had a legitimate and supportable claim who would not normaly have access to the legal systlem or process could pursue a claim with minimal risk while the lawyer willing to take the risk of inputting their time and expertise would be compensated for taking on such risk by virtue of the enhanced level of fee they would stand to get if they won the case.

A recent example of where a Conditional Fee Arrangement was used against the press is the Naomi Campbell v Mirror case.
More comment here:
A punishing victory
No win No fee faces Stone test

20.3.08

McCanns v Express - endgame



It was never a question of 'if' the McCanns would sue the Express but more a question of 'when'. With the time limit for bringing defamation claims ticking and the paper showing now sign of restraint in its quest to alternate its front pages with headlines about the McCanns with its tired but enduring attempt at using Diana's image to feed its dwindling circulation, the Express has belatedly but rightly been brought to book.

While there have been calls for heads to roll at the paper or to boycott it and its affiliated titles, the damage has been done. Its editorial stance and content have long overstepped the frontiers of ridicule and to the extent they endure on the newspaper landscape are no more taken seriously than their stories are well researched or founded. The £550,000 payout to the McCanns is high at an objective level but represents a damage limitation settlement. Had the Express risked a trial and sought to defend the 100 or so articles that could be construed as being defamatory about the McCanns then it is likely a jury would have awarded a significantly higher sum.

What this sorry episode highlights - other than the sad fact that there seems to be little progress in what is coming up to a year on in the quest to find Madeleine McCann - is that the quest for copy and content has overtaken journalistic values and ethics when it comes to stories that sell. We debate the issue of trust in journalism and seek to defend the right to free speech but there is a disconnect between ideals that should underpin the role of journalism in the democratic process and to inform the public and the commercial realities of consumer led and content driven businesses being pulled by material that sells rather than pushing material that informs and seeks to elicit the truth and find out what lies beyond and beneath the headlines. The case also highlights the fact that if you want to be able to force the press to act over its excesses then litigation - for those who can afford it - is how to get results while self regulation remains a fall-back option for those who may be content with a mere apology buried deep in a paper with little leverage to elicit anything more than this.

More comment on the McCanns v Express:
Press still needs proper safeguards
Paying the price of speculation
Express Newspapers forced to apologise to McCann family

11.3.08

Does the internet make contempt laws unworkable?

Has the internet made the law of contempt unworkable?

This is discussed in an interesting article published in today's Times that highlights the difficulty of policing contempt laws in an online environment.

The law of contempt of court is there to protect the administration of justice in the broader sense and individual proceedings and those involved in those proceedings at a specific level. The 1981 Contempt of Court Act sets out statutory contempt law, whereby the publication of material in relation to 'active' proceedings (for criminal purposes this kicks in when someone is arrested) that creates a substantial risk of prejudice to the proceedings in question or those involved in such proceedings will amount to contempt of court. Under the Act this applies irrespective of intent. This is known as strict liability contempt. In addition to statutory contempt under the 1981 Contempt of Court Act there is common law contempt - this is wider in scope and relates to the publication of material that could substantially prejudice or undermine proceedings but such proceedings do not need to be 'active'. In other words if one publishes something that could undermine a future case or those involved in it that could amount to common law contempt. The key distinction between this and statutory contempt is that common law contempt requires proof of intent.

Mediabeak would argue that the key challenge for contempt law does not lie in the material or its availability online - it is accepted that policing online material across jurisdictions is a near impossible task - but lies with our faith in the jury system. Contempt law is there to protect the jury in particular and others involved in proceedings beyond that from bias. If we can't shield juries from the online environment when they sit on a case, can we trust them to be objective? We have to accept the fact that today's juries are news savvy and have access to the internet. Its unrealistic to assume they live or can for the purposes of a trial operate in a bubble. So the real question becomes one of whether the law can adapt to juries' increased access to information and still engage when information turns to bias, or whether, if we can't trust juries with the additional information they may be able to obtain, they are still the best method for trying cases. If we can't trust juries we should change the system.

More analysis on the issue of contempt:
Contempt of Court in the dock

9.3.08

Why the McCanns should sue the Express

Its ten months since the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal last May. Ten months that have seen very few new facts or evidence emerge to explain what happened to Madeleine. Ten months that have seen the McCann’s paraded and parade themselves across the media in their quest to find, or discover what became of, their daughter. What little is known about the investigations of the Portuguese judicial police has cast more doubt than light on the case and the only public movement on the part of detective agency Metodo3 (hired by the McCanns to find their daughter) has been to upgrade their office space in Barcelona. The public has provided a series of ‘sightings’ ranging from bundles on jet skis near Praia de Luz itself to Spain, Greece, Malta, Morocco, Belgium, France and even Dorset in the UK.

The lack of hard facts and substantive information about the case has done little to diminish its newsworthiness. The hunt for a missing girl turned into the story of her parent’s emotional journey through guilt at having left her in harm’s way to the ongoing quest for absolution and an answer to their prayers to find her. Having engaged the media to support their search the McCann’s couldn’t expect to be shielded from its spotlight. Early empathy from headlines such as the Sun’s ‘We share your pain’, was replaced by ‘Kate left kids alone 3 hours a night’ and although a German reporter, during a press conference in Berlin, attracted outrage for suggesting the McCanns were involved in the abduction, the focus ultimately turned on the parents. What followed was some of the wildest speculation witnessed in recent criminal investigations. Never has so little fact produced so many headlines.

Whatever the public think of the McCanns, whatever conjecture conspiracy theorists place on the media campaign to find Madeleine, there is no excuse for journalism that manufactures fact out of fiction.

Full article and analysis coming up on MediaGuardian.co.uk ...

Background:
McCann lawyers warn Express Group

28.2.08

McCartney Mills divorce: Judgment day set for Mucca and Macca




The Judicial Communications Office has today announced that the judge, His Honour Hugh Bennett, presiding over the McCartney Mills divorce battle will deliver his judgment on March 17th. There has been extensive media coverage, rumour and speculation about the long awaited financial settlement. Following a hearing ealier in the month there was hope that the feuding couple might arrive at a settlement but unless there is a last minute development, it will now be the court that decides who gets what at the end of the protracted hostilities.

While this case is all about money - something neither of the parties will be short of - it has detracted from the real victim caught up in the media and pr crossfire that has been pouring indirectly and sometimes directly from the Mucca v Macca camps. Hopefully the couple's four year old daughter Beatrice will not be a regular reader of the public war of words that has taken place in the press in the run up to this financial endgame. Irrespective of the tales that have been told thus far, the fact that is has come to this sheds neither party in particularly good light.

More:
Judge threatens Mucca and Macca with contempt
Mucca and Macca head to the High Court

The mudslinging match and libel:
Could she sue?
Trial by Media

27.2.08

Undercover Mosque: tables turned as programme makers sue police for libel



Its normally the media that get sued for libel and the damage to reputation their coverage is alleged to do. This time the tables are turned and the editor and production company behind the controversial documentary, Undercover Mosque, aired in January last year are suing the police for libel.

While controversial, the programme, overseen by Channel 4 Dispatches editor Kevin Sutcliffe, had involved extensive research and dealt with the sensitive issues of extreme Islamic views and radicalisation. While uncomfortable and likely to attract condemnation from various parties, the debate underlying and surrounding the programme addressed important issues of public interest. For reasons best known to the West Midlands police, they decided to complain to media regulator Ofcom about the programme and the way it was edited, publicly suggesting it was biased. Their complaint had significant implications for the media and freedom of expression in that what they were seeking to claim and have some say over was the manner in which a television programme was edited.

As has been discussed in the press, this is clearly intrusive of free expression and goes againt the freedom of expression guarantee as exists under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights as applied through the UK Human Rights Act. Under the UK Act both the courts and police as public bodies have an obligation to act in a manner that upholds and is consistent with the European Convention. The European Court in the case of Jersild v Denmark was clear in establishing that it is not for the state or regulators to prescribe or interfere with the 'form and substance' of a television programme. Insofar as a programme does not of itself contravene a law or incite racial hatred, it is up to programme makers to decide the best way to portray the story and images that support it.

Ofcom published its decision in Broadcast Bulletin Issue number 97 - 19|11|07 and found the programme not to be in breach of the Broadcast Code

It will be interestng to see what becomes of the action announced this week. What the case highlights is that the media has as much right as the public, celebrities or politicians to be protected by libel laws against having its reputation damaged without just cause. The assumption that libel actions are one way traffic is being rebutted by this action. While the overall case has clear human rights and free expression considerations, the specific facts that would need to be proved are that the police complaint to Ofcom and surrounding publicity damaged the reputation of the editor and programme makers - or had the potential to do so. If this were to proceed to full trial it would provide a legally formative public debate on the rights of the media to be protected from unjust attack and allowed free expression. It is however more likely that damage limitation will see an out of court settlement.

More:
Undercover Mosque cleared

25.2.08

YouTube services hit by censorship



YouTube saw its services in Pakistan, the UK, Germany and the US cut off for much of Sunday after Pakistan’s Communications Ministry ordered it to be shut-down for carrying blasphemous content. While the ban was meant to cover Pakistan, a mistake in reconfiguring the routing protocol led to the site being unavailable in other countries. YouTube is no stranger to censorship – Thailand banned it last April for harbouring a clip of the country’s King made to look like a clown and the authorities in Turkey and China have also tried to get it shut down.

Whether it be state censors, celebrities or those caught on camera in a compromising position, YouTube poses an ever present threat but if the scenes that provided the material didn't exist in the first place then there would be less to be scared of. What YouTube essentially provides is a forum for visual free expression. In this sense it should be regarded in the same way as text-based content and afforded some free expression. There is a subtle yet all important distinction between appropriate regulation and censorship. Regulation defines what are acceptable social norms and what complies with legislative and other rules.

The difficulty is that when it comes to the online environment regulation has been developed in line with traditional broadcast rules and has not kept pace with the technological capabilities that allow anyone to be their own movie producer. There needs to be more debate and engagement between state and its average YouTube using citizens - rather than just media - to set some parameters for what is deemed acceptable. An online video exposing the likes of Paris Hilton may offend her but not corrupt or offend society as a whole, while snuff-type or extreme sexual videos will do.

So while YouTube's services may have been accidentaly cut in various countries following Pakistan's censorship, it highlights the risk that any form of censorship carries. There is still much work to be done to define and refine regulation of net based and user generated content driven sites.

Overturn of banning order reveals tragic tale of brutality

It was only after an appeal against a section 39 order - made under the Childrens and Young Persons Act 1933 (which gives the court discretionary power to grant anonymity over juvenile defendants or witnesses) - that the harrowing facts behind an Old Bailey trial came to light. Reporters covering the trial of 18 year old Manisha Ruttan who stood accused of the manslaughter of her baby boy, were astonished when the judge placed a gagging order over the proceedings. Given that Ruttan was no longer a juvenile and that her baby son was dead and therefore would be afforded no protection by the trial details or identity of him or his mother being kept secret, it was an order that should not rightly have been made. Following an appeal against it by the South London Press, the judge lifted it and a sorry tale of violence and child abandonment came to light.

Ruttan had fled to the UK from Mauritius following a dispute between her boyfirend and her family. He had been stabbed to death after torching her father's car after the father turned down the boyfriend's request to marry Ruttan. Having arrived in the UK, Manisha Ruttan gave birth to a baby boy whom she abandoned in a plastic bag on a south London rooftop. He died. She faces deportation after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

More from HoldtheFrontPage

Photographer secures payout for police brutality



A photographer who was so badly 'handled' during protests in Parliament Square in October 2006 that he needed hospital treatment has accepted an apology and out of court settlement from the Metropolitan Police. Well known and respected photo journalist Marc Vallee had to take time off work following the incident. He brought a civil action against the police and Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair for abuses under the Human Rights Act. While the police have not admitted any liability under the terms of the settlement, it is clear from the case and video footage that Vallee didn't decide to beat himself up. To the extent police film protests, the press covering the protests now increasingly film the police filming them as well as the general public. While it may not have made it into a court or been admissible in evidence, its fair to say that this time they were caught on cam.

More including video footage from Editorial Photographers UK and MediaGuardian

24.2.08

Paul Burrell - the rock is on the rocks after perjury allegations and gay exposee



The News of the World didn't shy from its headline as it ran its front page exposee of Paul Burrell. He may have been Diana's self-styled rock but according to todays exposee his attentions were far more devoted to something else rhyming with rock.

The former royal butler who has made millions out of touting his version of life as confidante to Diana, Princess of Wales seems to be coming unstuck - or is he merely the victim of a nasty tabloid stitch-up? The confidence of today's headlines back the view that he may be the author of his own destiny and that the Paul Burrell roadshow may be about to hit the rails. The case against him - other than his performance on 'I'm a Celebrity get me out of here' - is that he threw the coroner in the current Diana inquest a couple of 'red herrings' and, according to today's reports, he is driven by his gay urges. While there is nothing wrong with him being gay, there is a great deal wrong with (1) lying to a coroner's inquest (2) bragging about doing so (3) deceiving and lying to his family and public (4) trading off Diana's life and untimely demise.

It will be surprising if there is not some sabre rattling by Burrell's lawyers and a threat to sue the News of the World and the Sun over their allegations but the confidence of the pieces in both papers suggest that, should Burrell decide to litigate, it could be a close contest. He has put so much of himself in the public domain that he will be hard pressed to argue he has much privacy left and having been caught bragging on camera about his red herrings and other matters he will be hard pressed to claim that the basis of these horrible things being said about him are untrue.

Last time Burrell was up against it and in the dock (having been accused of obtaining and being in possession of several of Diana's belongings) the Queen (probably indirectly) came to his rescue and the case was conveniently dropped. This time the case against him is a public one about his credibility and his own actions. It is likely the papers calculated this before releasing their headlines.

More from:
The SUN
News of the World

22.2.08

Will Smith wins damages and apology over Hitler slur



There's one thing reporting facts in a wrong or misrepresented way but another in then disseminating such slurs to a wider audience. Picking up on an interview in the Daily Record, WEN World Entertainment News had distributed a story that misrepresented Will Smith's views on Hitler's atrocities and warped logic as an endorsement of the Nazi dictactor as a 'good person'. While the original interview had been in the Scottish tabloid it was the news agency that distributed this misrepresentation that was in the High Court this Friday to issue its unreserved apology and offer undisclosed damages for propagating the libel.

As previously reported on Mediabeak, following a strangely written-up interview in Scottish tabloid the Daily Record, that was picked up and dstributed in the media by WEN as suggesting Hitler was a good person, Will Smith was forced to issue a clarification over what he had actually said in the interview.

WEN was today forced to offer an unreserved apology and damages in settlement of the incident. This episode highlights two things: First, how ridiculous journalism let itself interpret Smith's comments in such a way (he's not known for his right wing stance on any subject) and Second, a reminder to news agencies and wire services that they have to apply sufficient editorial controls to ensure that - even if the material they receive is already misrepresented - they can filter content to ensure they don't repeat or create libellous headlines or copy.

More HERE

19.2.08

Privacy: Hong Kong faces privacy law push after actor's nude picture exposee



Following a flurry of 1,300 pictures involving six actresses and singers, Hong Kong actor and singer Edison Chen Koon-hei has kept both internet sites and the Hong Kong police busy. Edison had been a busy boy and captured his exploits on his PC but all went wrong when he took it for repair and his catalogue of exploits found their way onto the web.

As Mediabeak understands it, the local law only becomes engaged when someone uploads obscene material or publishes it. The mere possesion or passing it to a third party without publication may not of itself be an offence. That said, the clips did make their way onto the internet much to the embarassment of all concerned. Edison Chen apologised for not taking greater care over the pictures earlier this month but the case rumbles on as the clips notch up star ratings on sites such as YouTube over which laws in all jurisdictions seem to have little sensible control.

According to reports in the Hong Kong publication the Standard, Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Roderick Woo Bun has called for tougher privacy laws that would outlaw the passing or uploading of private information without the owner's consent. Good news for future Edison Chens and a law that would give the likes of Paris Hilton much comfort in western jurisdictions - though for now the UK Parliament has steered clear from.

More HERE and HERE

Crucifixion keeps McCanns in the headlines



As the embers of the failed investigations in Portugal fade, while private investigators Metodo3 have yet to find more than new office premises and the tabloids continue to fill column space with the occasional snipe and counter PR, one has to ask how the story of the coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann will end.

Too little is known about her fate and as we rapidly approach the first anniversary of her disappearnce all we do know is that never in the history of the british press has so much coverage been generated by so little tangible fact.

So we have arrived at this ironic headline that accuses and asks the media to stop hounding - or to echo their faith - crucifying the McCanns yet is one of the headlines they still desperately seek and presumably (through their aides) place to keep the disappearance of and search for Madeleine in the public consciousness.

To the extent that Kate McCann's mother, Susan Healey, may be pleading to lay off her daughter she also needs those carrying out the perceived crucifixion to keep the story alive.

Unless there is some dramatic breakthrough or miracle then it will not be Portugal's judicial police or a Spanish sleuth that will lead us to Madeleine. The case is more likely to end where it started with the surrounding story and media coverage. Faith may be keeping Kate and Gerry's hope alive but its the media that is doing more to cover and join the dots of this case.

No one, least of all the media like an unfinished story or package - the race to solve the case is as great as ever. Much as the McCanns may feel persecuted by the media they need to be aware that it will be the media that go the extra mile to discover what happened - a headline will always sell whereas another entry into the logbook of a beleaguered investigation will - on present evidence - add little value or bring us any closer to understanding what happened on that tragic night and what became of Madeleine.

Regulatory Roundup - Broadcast



OFCOM clamps down on participation TV

Ofcom has today announced new measures to protect viewers against being misled or duped in relation to ‘interactive’ or ‘participation’ programmes. The move comes in the wake of the series of phone-in and vote rigging scandals that spread across the TV spectrum from daytime lifestyle shows, to the bastion of childrens broadcasting, Blue Peter through to prime time evening favourties such as Ant’n’Dec.

The new measures give Ofcom increased powers to impose new license conditions, obtain third party verification and what broadcasters will no doubt see as the biggest threat, the power to undertake spot checks on programmes.

In addition, where all those seeking to provide premium rate phone services (PRS) to broadcasters will need to satisfy PhonepayPlus – which regulates PRS – that they meet the required standard.

Ofcom hopes that the tougher measures it has, combined with more power to scrutinise providers at the point of entry to the market will produce the much needed improvement to regulation and public perception of a clampdown on the free-for-all audience duping and money making machine that seemed to surround phone ins.

The new licence conditions provide:
• Where television broadcasters invite viewers to participate in programmes, they are directly responsible for the handling of all communications - whether by phone, email or post - from viewers.
• Television broadcasters must obtain independent third-party verification of all systems used in PRS voting and competitions . Ofcom will undertake an initial 12 to 18 month programme of unannounced spot-checks to ensure broadcasters are complying with this requirement.
Commenting on the introduction of the new measures Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said “Viewers must be confident that they will be treated fairly and consistently when interacting with television programmes. These measures will ensure that broadcasters are directly accountable and give greater protection for all.”

Full details from OFCOM

Regulatory Roundup - Press



PCC Roadshow
Leeds was today the 10th city to be visited on the PCC’s journey to take its services to the people. While the PCC’s roadshow can hardly be described as a whsitlestop tour – it kicked off in 2003 – it has increased awareness among the public and provided a good forum for feedback. Raised awareness coupled with an easy online procedure has seen press complaints increase steadily in recent years. Beyond providing a simplified and accessible mechanism for complaining and keeping the press in check, the PCC has also been active behind the scenes in brokering deals to resolve disputes.

A recent example was a complaint made against the News of the World for having accused a volunteer worker of selling ‘linky sex’ on the internet. The case was resolved after the complainant, Mrs Jacqueline Sharp provided evidence to show her website had been ‘purely for research’, and the NoW published a statement to clarify the position:
“On 22 April we reported that Ms Jacqueline Sharp, a volunteer worker for the Citizens Advice Bureau, was 'selling kinky sex' on the Internet. After refusing to comment at the time, Ms Sharp now wishes to state that she has never sold sex - or dominatrix services - and that her mistress Sabrina' website was purely for research.”

FULL REPORT
News of the World resolves 'Purely for research' case

12.2.08

Showtime: Mucca v Macca - no more games as judge threatens them with contempt over press leaks



Round one of the much awaited Mucca v Macca - or Heather Mills-McCartney and Sir Paul McCartney - divorce hearing is up and running in the High Court in London. The judge, Justice Hugh Bennett made a robust opening statement that made it clear to the warring duo that he would tolerate no more nonsense and game playing in relation to this week's hearing. The run up to what is expected to be a four day hearing at the High Court this week has seen both parties - either directly or through proxies - brief the media against each other. Macca didn't need too much help as the media had already taken it upon itself to treat Mucca to venomous character assasination. From a legal point of view one of the low points saw the leaking of supposedly confidential legal papers - mysteriously faxed from a newsagents near Mills' solicitors and the Sun's full on assault on Mills' character. As Mediabeak reported, the weekend press did its best to hit Heather with a final flurry of damaging coverage.

Mr Justice Bennett reminded the parties that whatever they may like to think, the hearing is subject to contempt law and if they engaged in any media briefing or comment while proceedings were ongoing then he would have no hesitation in finding them in contempt of court.

While they argue over the financials - with a settlement at stake that could push new boundaries in terms of amounts awarded - one should not forget that the real victim in their public display of how not to go about divorce in a dignified way is ultimately ignoring the one innocent vitcim in the process - their daughter.

Will they and the media manage to contain themselves long enough to see this week's hearing through without risking contempt? Mediabeak sets the odds of something potentially defamatory or in contempt appearing - probably towards the close of proceedings as fairly probable.

Is it likely the case will settle - yes. They've pushed each other as far as it goes and neither would relish the uncertainty of the court's final award. The one way both parties have of saving some face and showing they can behave in a grown-up manner in concluding their divorce is to settle - that way they may have to compromise but are in control - and control is one thing neither party likes to have taken away from them.

More on today's hearing:

Optimistic coverage:
Timesonline - Magnus Linklater on 'The Path to an amicable divorce'
Telegraph - McCartney and Mills close to deal

Less sign of settlement:
FT - First day in McCartney case
Independent - Mills represents herself in showdown
Guardian - Mr Justice Bennett tries to work it out

Some Mucca v Macca media highlights:
MediaGuardian - Mucca v Macca how much is too much?
Mucca on the warpath on GMTV and ABC news
The Sun - Lady Macca's Porno Past
Observer - Peter Preston - Tabloids Wallow in Lady Mucca's misfortunes

Strictly come lawsuit - Garraway sues Mirror



She'd explicitly denied the stories but the Mirror and Sunday Mirror chose to run it. There can't be a season of Stictly Come Dancing without some strictly suspicious behaviour or what is strictly speaking a stitch up. Making dancing partners seem more than that is an easy target. Misinterpreting a friendly hug for something more is equally easy prey. But unless the Mirror can prove there is truth behind its allegations and suggestion that Kate was getting it on with du Beke then they will be negotiating a settlement with her lawyers, Schillings. This is another case that shows that its not worth trying to spin a story out of a compromising shot taken out of context. If you can't prove the substance (assuming there is one) of the story to be true or justify the innuendo and suggestion being spun then its an open goal for libel lawyers to shoot at. Perhaps the sales generated by the copy was deemed to offset the libel risk but the fact with these sort of stories is that even if they sue, those affected still have some of the story stick as readers remember headlines more than they do libel settlements. For the paper's part it just points to an attempt at a headline generating pop that replaces chequebook journalism in the sense of paying people for their story with settlement journalism - book the sales revenue and let the lawyers mop up the collateral.

More:
MediaGuardian
Reuters
and fair play to the Mirror who report on being sued themselves HERE

11.2.08

Ofcom: Jamie Oliver rapped for plugging Flavour Shaker


Ofcom has published its latest complaints bulletin today. Among complaints over a dog fighting scene in a film on Turner Classic Movies and promotion given to the Vauxhall Tigra on Britain's Next Top Model programme on the Living channel (at least the car they chose matched the people the programme featured!) the regulator recieved complaints that Jamie Oiver's new series, Jamie at Home, had given undue prominence to Jamie's great invention the 'Flavour Shaker'. Quite who cares enough about the product or the fact it might have been mentioned is another issue but in relation to Ofcom's rules 10.1 and 10.4 on editorial independence and undue prominence (Ofcom Code section 10), the regulator found that the programme had breached both rules. So note to celebrity chefs - when filming in your kitchen don't go plugging your products - or Sainsbury's for that matter Jamie!

10.2.08

Mucca and Macca head to the High Court

(headline banner from News of the World 10th Feb 2008)

After over 18 months of mud slinging and sensational headlines, the Mucca v Macca divorce settlement dispute finally reaches the High Court this coming week. Heather Mills-McCartney - Mucca - has received a mauling at the hands of the media, attacking her from every angle and not shying from brining the unfortunate loss of her leg into play. As a last minute 'sweetner' the News of the World today offered an exlusive under the headline 'Rumpy Stumpy'. Conveniently placed to appear before her court appearance the exposee claims that she 'cheated' on Macca with a former lover. This does appear (certainly from the dated photographs) to be digging up dirt from a time before she was married to Macca but the timing is caused to add to the reputational damage that has been inflicted on her as she pursues her financial settlement with Macca. What is unfortunately forgotten in this acrimonious split while both parties try to manipulate or defend their respective positions into place, is that their daughter will have to live with the fall out from this and will one day get to read some of the venimous copy that has crossed many a tabloid front page.

It seems a shame that the lawyers can't do a deal on this and will let the whole sordid slagging match find its endgame in court. Whatever went on behind closed doors, its not Mucca or Macca who one should be feeling sorry for - they know the score and can't switch media coverage off when it no longer pleases them - but thier daughter.

There is little doubt that much of what's appeared in the press about Mucca could be seen as defamatory but given the level to which her reputation has been trashed it would be difficult to make an action against one specific title stick - or perhaps not - maybe the conclusion of the divorce proceedings will see a new wave of libel actions - that would certainly inject some fun into what's started as a relatively quiet year for the defamation bench.

More on Mucca v Macca
Could she sue? - Trial by Media

8.2.08

Lawyers not above the law - court lifts gag on convicted lawyer

As previously reported on Mediabeak, the High Court had imposed a gag on reporting the identity of a barrister convicted of harassment on the grounds that his identification could harm or embarrass his children. Court reporting restrictions under the Children and Young Persons Act allow for restrictions to be placed upon identification but as Mediabeak pointed out, this will depend on the likelihood or proximity of harm children may be exposed to and in this case it was not that great a risk and certainly not one that outweighed the right of the public to know about the barristers lawful conviction for a crime.

The media challenged the gagging order and the High Court reconvened a full hearing to decide if the person in question could be named. A ruling by two judges sitting in the High Court were sympathetic to the impeccable professional track record enjoyed by - who we now know to be - Lincoln Crawford - they made it clear that no one, not even a lawyer or judge was above the law and as such, in the circumstances, he could be identified.

More from Press Gazette

5.2.08

Ryanair pays out to Sarkozy and Bruni



Ryanair has been ordered to payout for using the image of newlyweds Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni without their permission. The couple have hardly been ones to shy away from the cameras of late but Ryanair's use of the couple in a print ad in French newspaper Le Parisien saw them rush to the courts for cover. Playing on their wedding, the ad featured the smiling couple with a speech bubble coming out of Bruni's mouth saying that 'With Ryanair my whole family can come to my wedding'. Witty stuff but not in line with the law.

The French court was fairly lenient on the airline, ordering it to pay €60,000 to Carla Bruni while Sarkozy only recieved a derisory €1 - so whats significant about the amounts?

Sarkozy will be upset that he's worth so much less than Bruni but while he may be President, he's not got the celebrity track record that Bruni as model and pop star has accrued. What the court was compensating for was not any human rights related invasion of privacy - their private life was not invaded by the advert that used a picture of them in public and in any event, they have been very 'public' of late so would be unlikely to find a court too sympathetic at an attempt to cry foul over privacy when they've been riding high on the publicty surrounding them and their private life - today's award was for wrongful use of their image.

Celebrities and others do have rights in their image - depending on circumstance these are protected by copyright, trademark or data protection laws - where someone has a commercial value in their image, as Bruni does through her modelling work, then they have the right to sue when their image is used without their consent. This is particularly the case when it is done, as in this scenario, for commercial gain.
Bruni will be upset that she didn't get awarded the half million Euros she had claimed (based on her going rate had the airline engaged her contractually to feature in a campaign). Indeed she may have been awarded more but for the current wave of publicity which could have influence the court to conclude that a nominal award against the airline would suffice.

Is the award enough? arguably not. Ryanair is known for its publicity stunts that guarantee it free media exposure by being outrageous or upsetting people. Why should they be able to get free advertising in this way at the expense of others and by using their image? The argument is that while adverts such as this may be a transparent vehicle for free publicity one has to balance the value of that publicity against the harm the adverts cause. In this case they haven't really harmed Bruni or Sarkozy - they played on existing and topical publicity. So it would be wrong to hit the airline with damages just for being smart, if somewhat outside the strict rules of engagement.

What Sarkozy and Bruni are signalling by taking this action is that when they decide they've had enough of the media or advertiser's glare they will use the law to protect their privacy and image. What should encourage the press is that in having already offered and played out so much of thier life in public, they have engaged a public interest element in what they do - the bottom line is that if you go public then the public, through the press has a right to observe and scritinise you.

A couple of cases for comparison:
1: Former Formula 1 driver Eddie Irvine v Talksport
The radio station had used his image in promotional material without his permission and was ordered to pay out £75,000 for doing so
2: Douglas v Hello - while Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones dropped out of the last round of litigation, the case was more about the control of image rights than about privacy. This led to the battle over these rights between OK! and Hello magazines, the former in effect seeking commercial compensation for the fact that Hello had stolen a lead over its rival by publishing a spoiler
More on Douglas v Hello

Meanwhile Ryanair couldn't - for want of a better phrase - give a stuff - its switched its attentions to Italy where its upsetting the people of Naples by playing on their ongoing rubbish clearance dispute and runing an ad with the caption 'Pay the taxes! Not for waste but to escape'. Its unlikely the city of Naples will follow Sarkozy and Bruni into the courtroom - given its current image and the fact that a city can't of itself sue anyone. More from Reuters

4.2.08

Can the publicity hungy Sarkozy expect any privacy?


Nicolas Sarkozy has been a busy boy. In the last few months he has separated from his wife, become President of France, hooked up with and married Carla Bruni (who according to reports is already pregnant) and has sued Ryanair.

What have all these events got in common? No he didn't get hitched and father a child a mile high on a Ryanair flight - though Ryanair would have no doubt used the publicity - but he has been very much 'out there' and has not been shy in coming forward and presenting his life and his loves to the press. As Marcel Berlins points out in today's Guardian this creates both a conundrum and an opportunity for the French press - historically the door to politician's private lives has been closed both in fact and by the strict privacy laws that prevail through the French civil and penal codes but here we have mr 'speedy' or 'president bling bling' Sarkozy with an ex-wife who failed to ban a book containing comments about their private life and who was proud to parade his new model pop star wife in front of the world's media now seeking to ask courts to uphold his privacy. Mediabeak thinks not.


Judgment is expected tomorrow in Sarkozy's action against Ryanair over its use of a picture of him and Bruni in one of its ads. He might win on the unuauthorised use of image point or copyright but beyond that will the courts see through his selective use of privcacy laws?






In terms of adverts it was EasyJet who first used clever pictures - notably of Colin Ingram who had been accused of cheating on the UK National Lottery - it had a picture of him and his wife turning up for a court hearing with the caption 'Fancy a quick getaway? No Major fraud required' - needless to say the Ingrams didn't get far with their complaint as he had been a Major and a fraud and the picture had been properly obtained.

While Sarkozy might win the argument against use of his image for an advert - not that Mediabeak would grant judgment in his favour (aside from perhaps granting a share of royalty revenue) - any further attempts by him to secure the same protection over his privacy as his predecesors have enjoyed might put even the austere French privacy rules to the test. While the European courts have ruled - notably in the case of Hannover v Germany - that people irrespective of who they are should still be entitled to privacy if going about their private business, where what may be seen as 'private business' such as going on holiday with ones new girlfriend very much in the public eye and then marrying her at a private yet well leaked ceremony has been taken to the public and placed before the media then it would arguably be an abuse of the legal process to seek its cover to prevent coverage when the publicity that has served Sarkozy fairly well of late has been accepted if not actively welcomed.

Mediabeak will have more to say on the matter tomorrow once the judgment is known.

Court upholds gag over convicted barrister - for now

The High Court has today ruled that it should be left to a full hearing to decide whether an order preventing the naming of a barrister who was convicted over charges connected with domestic harassment. While the court acknowleged that the barrister had been properly convicted it said that the original anonymity order granted under the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act - that provides that anonymity can be granted in cases where identifying the defendant could harm children involved or associated with them or the case - could be challenged by the media but would be subject to a full hearing and the media submitting a challenge to the existing anonymity order.

If the media - as is anticipated - challenge the gag, it would be on the basis that any potential harm to the children would be outweighed by the legitimate public interest in being allowed to know about the case and the media's corresponding right to report it. This was recently tested in a case where protection had been sought in respect of a father who had downloaded indecent images of children. The Court of Appeal decided to lift the ban in that case. It remains to be seen if the barrister's own barrister can distinguish that case and counter the argument that he should be named. Much of this may be down to facts as to what extent his children were involved or may be affected by the case and which can't be reported.

More from Press Gazette

2.2.08

Own goal: Express hit with libel damages over McKay transfer bungs claims



Big hitting football agent Willie McKay walked away with undisclosed but substantial libel damages after the Daily Express was unable to back up its story about his involvement in transfer fraud. The paper had reported early last year on an investigation into 17 separate transfers. In its article it had suggested that McKay had been subject to an interrogation and that he was implicated in the bungs being investigated.

McKay was upset by being included in a line-up of those being investigated by a report into soccer transfer bungs headed by Lord Stevens which also mentioned Graeme Souness and Harry Redknapp. He was even more upset at the tone of the article in the Express - more from timesonline

1.2.08

Judge lifts gag on army's abuse of Iraqi prisoners



In a welcome and robust display of judicial support for the rule of law and open justice, Lord Justice Moses has set aside the gag the Ministry of Defence sought to impose on the legal process and those reporting it by suppressing the names of soldiers who were on trial for abusing Iraqis. Sitting in the High Court, he sent a clear message to Defence Secretary Des Browne that there was no place for politics in his courtroom and that the Ministry of Defence was not above the law. He went on to describe the handling of the case as 'barmy' and was heavily critical of the blanket ban that was being sought over information on the abuse and torture of Iraqi civilians dating back to 2004. The judge said there was no evidence to support the suggestion that those being investigated would be endangered by having their names publicised.

The case is the latest in a string of unwelcome exposures of the reality of the conflict in Iraq that implicates military personnel for breaching human rights laws and the Geneva Convention by abusing and torturing suspects and prisoners. The disturbing spectre of torture first made its way into the headlines in 2004 when photographs emerged showing American army personnel humiliating and abusing their Iraqi captives [details HERE and HERE]. This has subsequently resulted in prosecutions. Amid finger pointing at the Americans, it was discovered that certain elements within the British army had behaved in the same manner.

This was first exposed by the Daily Mirror, then under the editorship of Piers Morgan. He decided to publish the 'Iraqi torture pictures' as they became known amid huge controversy that ultimately led to his untimely departure from the paper. While huge military and political pressure was brought to bear on the Mirror's exposee, ultimately denouncing the pictures as fakes, (through the provision of some quite amazing forensic evidence about the provenance of an army truck that was supposedly in one of the pictures)the fact was that the Mirror's exposure lead to the uncovering of a dossier at the Ministry of Defence that raised the issue of prisoner abuse - aside from the pictures the story they exposed was true and deserved to be told.


While Morgan lost his job, a year later a series of very real torture pictures turned up that proved more difficult to suppress and led to a court martial [more HERE].

One of the reasons that politicians were able to launch a campaign against the Mirror and Morgan's decision to publish torture pictures was that they claimed it would endanger soldiers in Iraq and inflame conflict - it was these same politicians who chose to wage war and cause the underlying conflict in the first place and sending soldiers to war carries far greater risk than running a story on the front page. Several years on and it is a sad indictment on our political process that it still seeks to whitewash over the consequences of its actions. From prisoner abuse to the detention of terror suspects and bugging of MPs, the state cannot operate above the laws it enacts to regulate and protect us against the evils in society. If the state seeks to act outside of these laws then it cannot expect its actions to be respected as just and it would be wrong for the courts to fail in their duty to uphold the law by turning a selective blind eye to the actions of the state. Protecting national security is in everyone's interests but seeking to abuse process in the name of national security will not cover up or tackle the abuses perpetrated by those seeking to harm or protect us.

More from Media Guardian

31.1.08

Privacy for sale: Angelina Jolie to confirm pregnancy to the highest bidder



While celebrities and the courts argue over the parameters of the human right to privacy and protecting celebrities and others from unwanted media intrusion and speculation, their quest to find a legal and moral centreground is undermined by the commercial forces at play.

Reports suggest that Angelina Jolie is offering an exclusive to confirm her pregnancy to the highest bidder. While the monies will go to some well deserving charity the concept and acceptance of it set a tricky precedent. To the extent that the money raised by this publicity stunt may well benefit a good cause it also puts a price on the sale of this confirmation and/or 'exclusive' and sends out the message that - whether for charity or not - such private information is for sale to the highest bidder.

This poses a legal and regulatory dilemma insofar as the legal system is - through the Human Rights Act and European Convention - charged to protect the right to private information. So if celebrities are allowed to sell their private information to the highest bidder why should the law step in and prevent this or similar information being published when a celebrity decides they don't want this information to be published or that the price they are being offered isn't right.

There is a need to separate the human rights based protection of privacy from the commercial regulation of private information as a tradable commodity. As the law stands intellectual property and associated licensing laws allow for the commercial exploitation while human rights laws and self regulatory codes deal with non-commercially regulated intrusion. This separation may seem workable at one level but there have been enough cases to prove it is not.

A prime example is the case of Douglas v Hello where Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas had entered into an exclsuive licensing deal that allowed OK! magazine to take and publish photographs of their wedding. Rival Hello magazine managed to obtain some sneakily taken snapshots from the wedding an printed them ahead of OK!'s official wedding pictures release. The protracted and ensuing legal action saw OK! magazine use the pretext of the Douglases privacy to sue rival Hello magazine for the revenues it lost as a result of Hello's spoiler. This is perverse and so too is the ruling that ultimately acknowledged some such right. It is illogical and arguably an abuse of process to use human rights related laws to protect privacy rights that one has already sold for commercial gain.

To the extent that one seeks to commercialise one's private life and information, one compromises the human right to privacy in that information. The very fact that a right is for sale means that the holder of the right has ascribed a value to it and anyone paying the price can, by implication, override the privacy in it. So where a right has been so commercialised, then any use of the private material that falls outside the terms of the commercial deal is surely a contractual issue relating to a breach in commercial exploitation or licensing rights as opposed to a human rights issue.

There remains much confusion between the two and the willingness of Angelina Jolie to commercialise her private news may serve a charity but does little to help clarify an already confused law. If there were new legislation that distinguished between privacy in a human rights sense and as a commercial commodity then that would serve to clarify an unsatisfactory interpretation and application of the laws that are currently being mixed and matched to address the various interpretations of what constitute privacy issues.

30.1.08

PCC Chairman calls for revamp of 'pretty weird' regulation



PCC Chairman Sir Christopher Meyer has honestly laid out the challenge that faces media regulation. Appearing before the House of Lords Communications Committee he acknowledged that the current system of regulation - knitting together the PCC that covers print and online press, Ofcom for broadcast and the ASA for advertising was a mix of regimes that would benefit from rationalisation and reorganisation.

Meyer's comments are welcome in that they point to an acceptance of what needs to be done with media regulation in the UK and the need for an inclusive and cohesive approach between rules for print, broadcast, online and adverts. A review and shake up of the regulatory regime would be both welcome and necessary. It would be preferable to reorganise the self-regulatory landscape along lines that acknowledge developments in law, regulation and technology than to keep manipulating the suite of out-of-date laws that surround it. If regulation took the funamental principles of the European Human Rights Convention as its backdrop and then worked outwards from that it could take regulation where it needs to be and create some clarity and workable rules for the media. This would be preferable to any legislative measures in areas such as privacy which successive parliaments have steered clear from and would be difficult to frame along the flexible lines that are required.

More HERE

Ryanair scores PR hit with ad outrage



What may have been intended to be a cheeky ad has made its way into the headlines in what - giving the Ryanair PR team the benefit of the doubt - is some clever manipulation of the situation. The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) received 13 complaints that the advert depicting an adult in schoolgirl's clothing was sexually suggestive in an inappropriate manner and - most likely for being held to account if they ran the ad rather than agreeing with the ASA or wanting to turn away the revenue - several papers refused to run it.
The ASA ruled that the advert breached s2.2 Social Responsibility and s5.1 Decency parts of the non broadcast advertising code

While the intent of the advert may not have been to be suggestive in an inappropriate manner - though the company can't realistically argue that the thought wouldn't have crossed its collective mind - the handling of the fallout has secured Ryanair primetime TV spots and front pages. Had they accepted the ASA's findings, withdrawn the ad and apologised then there might have been some comment but the fact that they openly taunted the ASA with their response that accused the ASA of being a "bunch of unelected self-appointed dimwits are clearly incapable of fairly and impartially ruling on advertising" ensured the story got picked up as news and has now hit the headlines.

While all of this may not have been deliberate the exposure Ryanair has got is priceless - if one were to go a step further one could even say that the decision to run the ad was linked more to the Britney association than to the inappropriate sexualisation of schoolgirls - given Britney's media exposure that association would also ensure the ad leveraged from the linkage.

A vox pop on one of this evening's news programmes summed up the reality of the situation - "what has it got to do with aeroplanes"

More HERE

Should critics be subject to defamation law?



The Court of Appeal in Belfast has retired to consider its decision on whether to allow an appeal by the Irish News against a £25,000 libel award over a restaurant review.





As previously reported on Mediabeak, last year a jury decided that the paper should pay out for publishing a review of Goodfellas Restaurant in Belfast that was critical of the eating experience and awarded a low star rating. What may seemingly be a regular libel action harbours significant issues over whether subjective reviews should be subject to libel law and, if they are, what that means for the competing right of free speech.

More from MediaGuardian

29.1.08

Doors closed on open justice - Court of Appeal upholds gag on murder trial

The Court of Appeal has this week upheld an order that allows a significant proportion of a defendant's testimony to be held in secret. As previously reported on Mediabeak the case concerns the murder of a wealthy author, Allan Chappelow who died from head injuries following a burglary at his Hampstead home in June 2006.

The defendant and the media had petitioned the Home Secretary to allow the case to be heard in open court rather than behind closed doors. The state had successfully secured a gag over proceedings on the basis of national security. At the heart of the case lies the, as yet, and in light of the gag probably never, substantiated allegaton that the death of Chappelow may have had some connection with the securtiy services. The Court of Appeal has upheld the original order granted by Mr Justice Ouseley - insofar as the judge had 'correctly applied the relevant law to the facts before him' - which is legalspeak for the judge followed the letter of the law as far as it could be construed towards the state - i.e. played it safe.

This decision is a shame given that it was not just the media but the defendant who was keen to have full public exposure and discussion of the truth. It is another example of how 'national security' can be used to trump the truth even in the wake of the Human Rights Act. To add to gravitas, Mr Justice Ouseley's original order also cautioned journslists that speculation about the case could amont to contempt - so no pressure there! - Mediabeak would like to stress that this report does not speculate in any way about the case or its merits, it merely questions the right to obtain more information to prevent such speculation.

More HERE

Multimedia trial coverage - local rape reaches international readers

Exeter based Express and Echo has been running a pilot programme that put its multimedia capabilities to the test through its reporting of a brutal rape that had left a profound affect on the city. Mediabeak reported on the pilot scheme that started earlier this month as the trial got underway at Exeter Crown Court of a polish man accused of raping a 48 year old mother in the centre of town. Showing little remorse, Tomczak had carried out what police descibed as one of the most horrendous crimes they had been asked to investigate. Whether the coverage achieved its aim of brining the trial closer to its readers is up for debate. It appears that while the local press provided welcome reportage, police were displeased by the Polish media's interpretation of the judicial process.

More HERE

28.1.08

J'Accuse - Alastair Campbell attacks media over "culture of negativity"



The grand political puppetmaster of spin Alastair Campbell has this evening attacked the media over its "culture of negativity" and significant fall in standards. Delivering the Hugh Cudlipp lecture at the London College of Communication, Campbell used the platform to attack the sales and headline driven focus of the media, drawing on the ongoing McCann repoting as an example of what's wrong with how our press approach their subject matter.

More on this evening's talk from MediaGuardian


Mediabeak will be delivering a talk on the McCanns and the media - analysing the media's treatment(s) and approach to the story as it unfolded and how it still achieves front pages. (See further posting for details - talks will be held in February and March in London and Bournemouth)