Sharon Osbourne wins payout for apparently not driving Ozzy to his grave

The Sun has been forced to pay out substantial libel damages after wrongly claiming Sharon Osbourne was pushng her husband, the legendary Ozzy Osbourne to perform lots of live music shows that were, allegedly, too much for him and could see him perform his way to the grave. As ever with these stories the pictues don't match the headlines they are seeking to stand up. Using a photograph from 2003 when Ozzy had just completed a charity run, The Sun sought to make that stand up as evidence that he may be being pushed too far to perform some music dates.

The paper (The Sun) and News International as publisher couldn't back up their assertions or make the story stand up so they promptly lost the defamation action brought by Sharon Osbourne.

Could a string of live gigs be a bit much for Ozzy - possibly, but that's one for his doctors to decide. Could Sharon be pushing him to perform more gigs (so she can buy more expensive lapdogs) - who knows but we can't - or the Sun certainly couldnt prove anything. What is and has been proved to be the case is that speculation over whether Ozzy can handle a tour can make a headline but that it's been an expensive one.

Here again is an example of a paper deciding to run the risk of a headline grabbing story while not able to prove the underlying suggestion of the headline. What the press knows but in cases such as this needs reminding of is that its all well and good to expose or stitch someone up but to get away with it one needs to have ones proof, sources or second hand suggestions in place to show that there is some legitimate (though not necessarily legitimate as in legal and compliant with law) basis for that which has been printed.


PCC rejects Roy Meadow complaint against The Times

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has rejected a complaint by Professor Sir Roy Meadow that a comment piece that appeared in The Times last July was inaccurate and misleading.

The essence of his complaint related to his involvement in some of many controversial family cases and the comment that the evidence he had given in two cases in particular, had 'gone beyond his remit' and led to the convictions of innocent people.

The two cases in question were those of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings - both of whom were convicted of child killing and a not insignificant part of the evidence that has been seen as leading to their convictions related to the views expressed by Prof Meadow as an 'expert witness' in relation to the statistical probability of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Both cases were appealed and the convictions of Clark and Cannings overturned. The appeal judges in these cases were critical of the weight placed upon statistical evidence and the way it was presented by Prof Meadow who was a doctor, not a statistician. The controversial and ultimately flawed proposition he and others had put forward in these and similar cases was that in cases where an infant had suddenly died and there was no medical evidence to explain such death AND where the statistical odds of a rare disorder such as SIDDS were slight then the only explanation could be that the mother (or other accused) must have killed the child. This was as dangerous as it was flawed - one cannot argue that where science runs out of proof then suspicion takes its place BUT this is what happened and 'expert witnesses' created their own legitimacy for such arguments.

Why it took so long for many of these cases to be uncovered, appealed and reported on was because they took place behind the veil of secrecy of the family courts. The media were not allowed in to report and scrutinise. The Times in particular had been championing the case for reform to allow the press access to such proceedings to provide scrutiny. As Mediabeak reported last month this is being addressed and the rules are changing from April 2009. Returning to the PCC's rejection of the Meadow complaint, Prof Meadow had sought to argue that Camilla Cavendish's comment piece on 17th July 2008 had been misleading and inaccurate - and therefore contrary to Section 1 of the PCC code and inaccurate.

In rejecting the complaint the PCC recognised the fact that the piece complained of was a comment piece and presented the opinion of its writer. Crucially though, her comments were accepted as an accurate distillation of the facts and what had been said in court (and was a matter of public record). Prof Meadow had not been the focus of the piece and the reference to him had not constituted a breach of the PCC Code on Accuracy.

Mediabeak agrees with the decision of the PCC and the important debate surrounding the issues discussed in The Times articles and more widely. The comment that Prof Meadow had gone beyond his remit and his evidence had been a piece in the jigsaw that led to wrongful convictions is, Mediabeak would argue, a matter of public record insofar as it has been discussed in the forum of appeal courts and the media.

The media have fought long and hard to be allowed into the family courts to scrutinise what goes on and help ensure that those who hold themselves out as expert witnesses are kept in check and held to account. While not ideal it is possible to accept that an expert witness can make mistakes but what is not acceptable that such witnesses do not recognise or acknowledge where such error or mistake may have been made and further accept the fact that an open justice system and freedom of expression exist to help scuritise our courts. So in terms of the current complaint it was perhaps misplaced for Prof Meadow to cry foul and right that the media should be vindicated in their proper discussion of the important issues at stake.

PCC adjudication


Courts get tough on IP litigation costs

IP litigation does not come cheap and a recent case involving Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) and Visto saw RIM's legal advisors, Allen and Overy bill a staggering £6m for their services. Now Blackberry and Visto are back in court but as reported in The Lawyer, this time Mr Justice Arnold has stepped in to temper the potential fee excessed and ordered Allen and Overy to provide an estimate of their costs before proceeding.

Mediabeak thinks that not just with IP as with media cases, the courts are aware of the often disproportionate bills being racked up and are showing increased willingness to intervene. Its not filtered through to reduce the excessed of controversial CFAs yet but it will hopefully filter through to redress some of the imbalances seen in litigation costs.

Snappers beware - police get heavy with anti terror laws

As reported in the Independent, an unsuspecting photographer found himself being bundled into a police car, locked up and subjected to interrogation. Was he armed and dangerous - well yes, if you consider a camera to be a weapon of mass destruction - but no, he was merely taking a picture of an old building - the former HMSO print works that is being regenerated in south London. So why was he stopped - the building happened to be near a police station and the Terrorism Act 2000 gives the police powers to stop and interrogate those they think may be engaged in potential terrorist activities!


PCC censures press over chainsaw suicide

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has held that 12 articles from 10 different publications were in breach of its code of conduct over the manner they reported the death of a man who had committed suicide using a chainsaw.

Clause 5(ii) of the PCC Code of Practice that provides: “When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used”

In this case details from the inquest that was determining the cause of death were distributed to the media via a newsagency. These contained a description of how the chainsaw had been used in the suicide. The majority of the publications that covered the story ran it in full and included the detail about how the chainsaw was set up and used.

The PCC said that it had found 12 articles to be in breach of 5(ii) of its code precisely because they did contain the detail about how the chainsaw had been used. It said that the decision to include this information was ‘excessive’ and not necessary in terms of reporting the essence of the story. It pointed out that although the information had been passed to the media via a newsagency this did not absolve the press of its editorial responsibility to check its content and ensure its compliance with the spirit of the PCC Code.

While all of the publications concerned accepted the PCC adjudication, however the Mirror did disagree with the PCC’s view in this case - it argued that “the method of suicide was so exceptional that the reporting of it was in the public interest. It did not consider that the reporting could encourage copycat suicides.”

The 12 publications found to be in breach were:
Daily Mirror and Mirror online
The Sun
The Sun online
Daily Star
Telegraph online
Mail online

The PCC concluded that reports carried by the following were not in breach:
The Guardian

Mike Ashley suing The Sun over “bevvies and beauties” story

The owner of Newcastle United football club has launched a legal action against The Sun newspaper over what he claims was its misuse of his private information. Mike Ashley took exception to the coverage which appeared last September under the headline “Toon chief’s £125k binge”.

Ashley claims that the coverage that included several photographs of him partying in a New York nightclub and a copy of his bar bill, was intrusive and had also put himself and his family at risk due to the suggestion in portrayed in relation to Newcastle United fans that while the club was facing difficulties he was living it up.

His claim that the use of photographs and bar bill without his permission or consulting him amounted to misuse of his private information may have some traction in the wake of the recent successful privacy action by Formula 1 boss Max Mosley. The fact that he claims the paper did not even consult him about the story or offer any right of reply may be seen as aggravating the situation but the impact of these type of exposees would be lessened if the subject were put on notice and able to prevent their publication. That does not however condone the decision to publish. The paper may well argue that given Mr Ashley’s position and prominence along with events at Newcastle United, their decision to expose elements of his private life could be justified. Up until recently this may have provided some justification for the intrusion on the part of the paper but the Mosley decision makes this less certain and places greater protection over the individual privacy of the person being exposed.

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