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.

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


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.

Undercover Mosque cleared


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


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:
News of the World


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.



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.”

News of the World resolves 'Purely for research' case


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.

and fair play to the Mirror who report on being sued themselves HERE


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!


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


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


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


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


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


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.

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