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.


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.


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.

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!


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.

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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.
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


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.


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’
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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.


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.