Sun stung after failing to prove Tory smear campaign story

The Sun splashed its exclusive back in April that there was a Labour plot to smear the Conservatives via a political rumour website 'Red Rag' but it now appears the only bull it has attracted has been Carter Ruck's litigation team who have today secured an apology and substantial damages for Tom Watson who it had - as has now emerged - falsely accused of being part of the plot to smear the Tories along with labour spin-meisters Damian McBride and Derek Draper.

Bit of a sorry indictment on The Sun and its former political scrutineer Trevor Kavanagh that what was a great scoop has now proved to lack the sting and has ended up in court as yet another apology and big libel bill because the story was either untrue or the paper had not been able to make it stand up to legal scrutiny. While todays reluctant sorry in the High Court and damages payout will, rightly subject the journalism to scrutiny, the public impact of the original story will have been far greater.

What Mediabeak thinks is a shame is that IF the impact of the story could be backed up with robust journalism that stood the test of legal action then we would have more faith in the papers and columnists who expose the dodgy dealings of politicians. Handing over yet another damages cheque and mumbling sorry in court might seem a commercially viable offset to the circulation generated by the offending story but its not a victory for journalism. While many of Carter Ruck's practices and cases may be seen as thorn in the side to the press, in cases such as these the financial pain the press suffer is a justified and important reminder of the fact that if you can't substantiate the story then don't be surprised if the lawyers come knocking at your door.


BNP Question Time debate - the BBC failed

Huge debate surrounded the BBC's decision to invite and allow BNP leader Nikc Griffin onto its 'flagship' programme Question Time. No one has emerged a winner - if there can be one in such a situation.

Contrary to silly suggestions that allowing Griffin on TV would be 'illegal' it was not - how can one in a democratic society legally prevent someone who is an elected politician - even if we find this distasteful and unacceptable - from appearing on a debate on a publicly funded state broadcast channel. We might not like what people have to say but to the extent we rely on our democratic and legal process we have to accept that the rules dictate they have a right to say things (subject to laws such as incitement etc) and there is not a law that prevents people (subject to the rules of contempt of court or certain criminals) from appearing on television.

What Mediabeak thinks was the main failing of Question Time is the fact that the first question was 'loaded' and referred directly to the BNP and so made the BNP the main subject of Question Time debate rather than allow a series of subjects to be presented to the panel and see what Griffin had to contribute. So Question Time turned into a debate about the BNP and whether Griffin was a Nazi and should be on TV rather than a programme that allowed viewers to hear Griffin and others debate issues of the day. Had the editors/producers let the programme take its course it would have made for more plausible and useful television. Instead we have a programme that did not answer many questions, provided the papers with the headlines they chose to intrpret and left no one truly wiser.

Do we like what Griffin has to say or stands for - no - BUT has he a case to complain to the BBC that his treatment on the BBC was biased, yes. In a sense there is a greater honesty to his racial offensiveness than the opportunistic and hyperbolic vitriol spouted by many politicians whose real views we can be less certain of.

Sick, sad and stupid Jan Moir and the Mail misjudge the issue

She's not said sorry but 'apologised' for the timing of her rambling which the Mail decided to publish in the wake of Stephen Gately's untimely death. Jan Moir epitomises what the Mail is about and the words 'objective analysis' or 'reasoned response' or 'timely insight or analysis' do not spring to mind.

Getting the record for the most complaints ever lodged with the PCC is not some sort of accolade but testimony to the journalistic and editorial failings that allowed such a piece to be printed. The key theme that ultimately determines judicial decision making and should be filtered down to the foodchain to editorial decision making is CONTEXT. While one can argue that a debate over certain lifestyles or the use of stimulants or alchohol are important and timely, linking such line of enquiry over a - as it was at the time - yet unresolved cause of death of a public figure such as Stephen Gately is, in the circumstances as naive, ill-timed and ultimately offensive.

The key question here is not why Moir penned such a piece - there is nothing preventing her as a commentator or columnist taking the stance or adopting the angle she did (whatever one might think) - BUT it is ultimately the Mail's editorial process that allowed her ramble to be published and so it is the paper that takes the responsibility for dissemintating her views. So we might want to bash Moir but without the Mail she would not have her platform so the question IS - was the Mail right to publish her 'contribution' to the 'debate' she allegedly sought to generate based on - what she has admitted was ill-timed - the link to Gately's death and lifestyle.

No. The Mail has a wider duty and that extends to assessing the public mood surrounding an event (Gately's death) and issues (lifestyle, sex etc) and deciding when it is appropriate to link the factual reports of one to the conjecture surrounding another. Both the Mail and Moir got it very wrong.


Daily Mail gets sued by Chelsea

The Mail should beware. A writ filed at the High Court in London this week claims that its handling, through Chief Executive Peter Kenyon, of the departure of business affairs boss Paul Smith was unprofessional.

Only a few years ago The Times ended up having to pay out £250,000 damages to Southampton FC Chairman Rupert Lowe over claims he had acted 'shabbily' in suspending the club's manager. In that case the claim succeeded even though it was comment by a sports columnist. In the current case the report was reported editorial fact based on an alleged 'cat fight' between Kenyon and Smith's partners.

Both Chelsea FC and Kenyon are claiming loss of reputation and distress as a result of the article and that the supposed spat between their partners was behind Smith's departure. Another aspect of the claim that will not be in the paper's favour is the suggestion that it had not sought response from the club or Kenyon pre-publication. The right to reply and/or putting to the potentially defamed party the facts upon which the story is based are seen as important stepping stones to satisfying the test for the journalism in question as being responsible.

An out of court settlement might be a good option for the Mail here as if it proceeds to trial it could see its legal bill match the precedent set by the Lowe v Times case.


PCC to probe Gately comment by Moir in Mail - over 21,000 complaints

The PCC has said irrespective of whether friends or family lodge a complaint, the regulator will launch its own inquiry.

Jan Moir's insensitive ramble has caused widespread outrage and sent the Twitterati into overdrive. The amount of complaints received by the PCC now exceeds 21,000 and represents more than the regulator has received in total over the past five years.

While the heat of the debate centres on Jan Moir, the wider issue for the Mail to ponder and the public and PCC to question is whether the paper's decision to publish was appropriate. Moir may have penned her poison piece but the paper decided it was acceptable to publish it. In doing so it has certainly judged the mood wrongly. Whether this misjudgement of mood directly breaches the PCC code is subject to interpretation and debate. It may seem easy to defame the dead but the ethics of doing so demand some debate.


Endgame in Trafiguragate - Carter Ruck folds as Guardian secures free speech win

The Trafigura question has - without seeking to overstate the case - put democracy and freedom of expression to the test. Social media has displayed its role and effectiveness in following and promoting the debate and - to be fair to Carter Ruck - they have done everything they could for their clients, posturing by raising the sub judice angle to seek to diffuse the debate in Parliament, Alan Rusbridger (Guardian editor) was pushing for.

This evening it appears - as reported by the Guardian - that the paper has been 'released from restrictions forthwith' and justice can prevail through the proper and unfettered reporting of the issues.

So the reporting of information about the alleged dumping of toxic waste off the Ivory Coast has now been made possible. The irony is that in seeking to suppress the story the company is now center stage not merely for its waste dumping but also for its advisers attempts to suppress its activities. In this endgame it was the attempt to suppress the information and influence Parliamentary process that has drawn the focus of attention to this case.

TO the extent that the underlying questionable act of dumping waste is a legitimate focus of attention, the attempts to suppress or even pervert the democratic process have a more enduring resonance. The true crime in this case would have been if legal process (via what has been dubbed the 'super injunction') could have been used to suppress information and debate because a corporation could afford lawyers to scare off the press and enlist judicial support for their position.

While this case may not resolve or alter Trafigura's working practices it has raised and hopefully reasserted a fundamental democratic principle that the public has a right to know and the media a corresponding right to report what issues are raised and debated in Parliament.

Carter Ruck went the distance for their clients but ultimately they had to concede the endgame - had they not then one of the cornerstones of the democratic and legal process upon which they sought or may in the future seek to rely on would be undermined and be called into question - the ability to scrutinise and debate without undue influence is a crucial principle that deserves to be fought over and upheld. The law should be there to preserve rather than deny this right irrespective of who holds the cheque book.

Former McCann PR wins libel action

Justine McGuinness who was appointed former PR adviser to Gerry and Kate McCann has won a libel action against Mirror Group Newspapers over a front-page piece in The People.

The paper had published allegations on its front page suggesting McGuinness had resigned as the McCann's PR after charging too much for her expenses. The paper couldn't back up its claims and has today issued an apology in the High Court and agreed to pay damages to a charity nominated by McGuinness.

Peaches Geldof sues Star over prostitute slur

Peaches Geldof has issued proceedings against the Daily Star after the paper published a less than adequate apology for suggesting she'd received cash for sex.

The issue of papers printing apologies and retractions that are as prominent as the original offending articles has been debated by the PCC and news editors. Claimant solicitors are pushing for front page apologies - so far these have been very rare - Geri Halliwell got one as did Miss Dynamite (mediabeak suspects Peaches may have got hold of their lawyer, Jonathan Coad, to go after the Daily Star). More analysis to follow.


PCC rules police raid coverage did not violate privacy

PCC rules that privacy rights don't attach to someone who has been the subject of a police raid.

Plymouth businessman Luke Dann took exception to coverage in The (Plymouth) Herald about a raid on his property and search of his cars by dozens of police officers. The raid did not result in any charges but the issue here is - given there was no charge, was it right for the press to report the raid on his property.

Dann argued that the paper was not entitled to report on the raid and that it was an invasion of his privacy.

Not so ruled the PCC which upheld the paper's position that the raid was a very public affair and as such was a legitimate subject to report on.

Mediabeak agrees - the raid was a public event or an action carried out in public view and as such should be open to be reported on at a factual level - in other words there is nothing wrong with reporting the fact of the raid provided that if, as is suggested in this case, there is no subsequent arrest or case, the reporting of the raid does not infer that the person(s) being raided are guilty of any wrongdoing.

Dann sought to rely on privacy but the paper did not divulge any information or pictures from inside his property so there was nothing published that could not have been veiwed or recorded by anyone who may (theoretically) have been standing on the street at the time of the raid. So nothing that was beyond the public domain was reported on.

The fact - even reported as fact - of a raid can be seen or have a prejudicial and invasive effect on the individual involved. However, it would be wrong to suppress the reporting of such fact as if there is a public raid or investigation then the public (who pay for the police conducting the raid) have a right to know what and why their money is being spent on.

Where an investigated or 'invaded' individual has nothing to hide then they can turn the raid or investigation into a positive for them by acknowledging the investigation and showing that it cleared as opposed to implicated them.

From a privacy point of view both the self regulatory press rules and the European Convention provide for the right and its protection BUT such provision is subject to intrusion or invasion of it being 'unwarranted' or 'unjustified' - so a raid may well be justified even where the person being raided is shown to be perfectly innocent.

Mediabeak concludes the key issue here is that yes, the press should be allowed to report on such raids or similar investigations BUT the contentious issue for those being investigated is that where the investigation being reported on does not result in any proceedings or highlight any wrongdoing then it is very unlikely the press will run a follow-up story along the lines that 'Raid proves local businessman innocent' etc. Bottom line is that the public has a right to know what is going on in its communities but that in the modern multimedia, multi-platform age it is no longer a question of a newspaper controlling the media agenda. The press will print what sells and that is not necessarily consistent with what might be the story or answer to it an individual is seeking to sell. Solution = capture and create your own online space that you can use for 'official' announcements.

Full PCC ruling HERE

Harriet Harman defends press freedom

Harriet Harman had a pop at the judiciary in Parliament this week. As leader of the House of Commons she defended the right to report proceedings in Parliament and said it was not for the courts but for the Speaker of the House to decide what should be restricted in terms of reporting proceedings. Harman has a long track record of defending freedom of speech (Harman v UK)so its great to see her sticking up for the press at a time when the expenses scandal is heating up again....

Harman addresses the House (courtesy of Guardian)
Harman tells courts to but out of Parliamentary proceedings
Harman, expenses and political ambition - analysis by the ever impartial Daily Mail


Should Carter Ruck be reported to Law Society for Trafigura-gate?

Media Guardian are running a line saying Tory MP Peter Bottomleyis goingto report Carter Ruck for engaging in that heinous offence of seeking to inhibit the reporting of Parliament but is the media's super injuncting nemesis about to be censured? No.

They tried it on and along came a question in Parliament which trumped their gag potential so end of.

There have been far more serious affronts to free speech in recent years through anti terrorism legislation and 'national security' issues. As Mediabeak has already posted, natural justice has prevailed and the Guardian has secured the story and moral high ground.

What is interesting about this case is that the old and new world orders have combined to produce the right result. On the one hand we have the ancient rule about Parliamentary business being reportable through Hansard and beyond while on the other we have Twitter and the freedom to Tweet.

The public domain is a great thing and concept and what Twitter is proving is that - beyond the millions of tweets about random people round the world doing and sharing their random things - it can play a significant part in putting information or an issue into the public domain and so defuse the legal process from its power to suppress information.

Twitter might not be Carter Ruck's friend today but it will be tomorrow because the opportunities if offers will - Mediabeak suggests - become part of the democratisation and liberation of information that will be definitive of news, knowledge and evidence in the years to come.

X Factor outrage - Dannii v Danyl

According to Ofcom's website, the media regulator has clocked up 3,885 complaints about Dannii's supposed 'banter' with Danyl that was suggestive of media speculation about his sexuality.

Now a media storm is brewing over this 'outrage' but is this a justified outpouring and analysis of inappropriate broadcast comment or is it just another example of the media playing with itself to generate a story?

It highlights the risks in taking what might have seemed innocent 'banter' off-screen and following it through on-screen but why should an interaction and comment that seems acceptable off-screen become so offensive on-screen? - because the same tabloids that speculated over Danyl now decide an innuendo based on that same speculation is 'out of order'. Better still they can pay Danyl to sell his story and pillory Dannii. It is indeed a tangled web the media weaves but the sad fact is that all that is going on here is creating a story that trades off X Factor prominence and viewing figures, plays on the characters and spins into a print press story that has minimal substance yet still manages (as the complaint numbers to Ofcom prove) to generate appeal.

So in a week where one of the country's leading media law firms has tried to suppress reporting of proceedings in Parliament we're busy generating a story about a reality show judge teasing a contestant about lyrics in a song. It's time to have some serious debate around what we want from our media and separate the important issues that impact society from the vacuuous that may drive sales and keep shareholders happy but ultimately distract the public and media regulators from the more important issues they should be addressing.


Guardian wins Trafigura question via Twitter

What's the case about: Trafigura - a company based in the Netherlands was supposdely dumping waste in West Africa. A Parliamentary question was tabled in relation to this and unusually, the Guardian newspaper found itself at the centre of a legal gag seeking to prevent it from reporting on the matter.

Why this case is important: The High Court had actually ruled that what should be an open question in Parliament (the supposed centre of democracy) could be shrouded in secrecy and not be reported by the press.

Key issue: Should legal process be allowed to prevent the press reporting on Parliamentaty procedure. Mediabeak says NO. This IS fundamental to democracy and the whole concept of press freedom - whatever the issue wherever in the world, the press, the media are there and have to be protected and recognised as being there to keep in check and question what is going on. If you can suppress questions in Parliament then you extinguish or discredit the whole basis upon which open government and a scrutinisable deomcratic societal systemt operates.

More background:
Press Gazette

Lily Allen gets apology and payout from Sun for fake quotes

The Sun has been forced to apologise and pay damages to Lily Allen after printing a string of allegations it couldn't back up.

The complaint relates to a 'story' published in May this year that reproduced quotes - attributed to the singer - that supposedly came from an interview with French sports magazine 'So Foot'.

What The Sun said - it printed a story headed 'Ranting Lily' that claimed she had said rude things about the Beckhams (Victoria apparently being labelled 'a monster') and that other talented couple Ashley and Cheryl Cole (who was apparently 'stupid and superficial').

Problem with the story was that The Sun took it from So Foot who - it appears - made it up.

Result - if you make up stories, don't check the source and falsely attribute comment to people (especially celebrities), you're going to get sued!

Today's High Court grovel on the part of The Sun follows earlier court action in September where The Sun agreed to pay £10,000 plus legal costs - see:
Press Gazette

Other rants The Sun reported on (but have not been litigated over)

Could a privacy action follow over boob exposure coverage...


Writter - the new online injunction via Twitter

Twitter has tweeted its way into the courtroom and Mediabeak sees there is scope for a new online writ serving service "Writter" to accompany this latest legal action.

Facts: A law firm - Griffin Law - who thought they were being impersonated by a 'tweeter' online but could not identify them other than through their online Twitter status, succesfully persuaded the High Court to issue and injunction via Twitter.

Implications: With due deference to our legal process, it isn't known for its procudural agility. Accepting Twitter as a medium means that legal orders such as writs can be served almost instantaneously. This has fast forwarded injunction serving into cyberspace and has far reaching implications. The current case led the High Court to Twitter as the only readily ascertainable medium through with to serve process on the defendant BUT if the courts were to embrace this method of service then following this precedent there is no reason why they should not issue other/future orders via the Twitter medium - provided the intended recipient could reasonably be expected to be in a positon to accept or receive service via this medium. So online perpetrators beware - if you're infringing or violating others' rights in cyberspace then the long arm of judicial law now reaches into your virtual domain and will be legally binding!

More from:
The defendant complied with injunction - Solicitors Journal

Twitter - a legal force to be reckoned with - see further case involving the UK's Guardian newspaper HERE


Mail on Sunday pays price for splashing Madonna’s wedding photos

A year on from punctuating Madonna’s divorce from Guy Ritchie by splashing a series of their wedding photos across its pages, the Mail on Sunday has been forced to make a substantial settlement – to be paid to Madge’s Malawi charity.

What the MoS did:
• Got hold of photos from Madonna’s wedding in 2000 at the exclusive Skibo Castle in Scotland.
• The pictures had previously never been released and were private.
• An interior designer Madonna had employed back in 2003 had copied a series of photos from a private photo album.
• A third party then offered these for sale to the MoS last year.
• The paper thought it would be a nice touch to publish them just after Madonna and Guy Ritchie announced their divorce.

Why this was not on:
• Madonna had always kept her wedding private and not sought to sell the wedding photos to OK Magazine (like Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas had done – but alas they subsequently got caught out by Hello Magazine)

• It was therefore a private event to which an expectation of privacy could attach.

• Copying photographs (no matter what they are of) is infringement of copyright

• Dealing in an infringing copy (as in buying the photographs) is also infringement

• Not offering Madonna advance notice is also a bit unkind – but had the paper done so she would have got an injunction and spoilt its fun.

Who else could she sue:
Her designer for breach of confidentiality and copyright infringement.
Any third party dealing in the infringing copy

BUT the MoS has more money and splashed the pictures so it gets to pay the price.

Sky News
MoS analyses divorce