Libel News from the Eye

A couple of bits of libel news in latest Private Eye (1223). First, an article (p. 26) that gives a bit more background to the New Statesman‘s decision to remove a blog posting that linked to suppressed articles about Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi reposted on Wikileaks, and to offer a public confession of the linked articles’ inaccuracy (I blogged on this here):

The American journalists who run Wikileaks checked out the Auchi story before putting it on their site. They watched the censorship in London in amazement and decided to act. According to a letter seen by Index on Censorship, they tell Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, that any apology suggesting the reports contained “substantial inaccuracies” would be libellous. “Such a statement will defame the professionalism of our investigative reportes and writers,” they wrote. “These include editor Julian Assange and former Pentagon aide John Shaw”.

If this succeeds, it would mean that caving in to a libel threat would no longer be the cheapest option, with the result that the British media would be obliged to show a bit more backbone. However, while I can appreciate Wikileaks‘ intent, this seems to me ill-conceived, as I noted before. If I say that a certain book contains inaccuracies, does that mean that anyone who gave the same book a good review can now sue me on the grounds that I have “defamed their professionalism” by offering a contrary opinion? Or if someone writes inaccuracies about me (whether libellous or not), will I risk being sued simply for daring to put the record straight publicly, if I cannot prove my version of events? The report continues:

Anthony Julius, of Princess Diana fame, has offered his services free to journalists who are sued by Auchi or feel the need to protect their reputations by suing the Observer, the New Statesman or anyone else.

A second report in the Eye (p. 6) deals with another aspect of UK libel law: the absurd size of the costs involved. Recently the Guardian was forced to pay a out small amount in damages due to inaccuracies in a report about Tesco (as I blogged here) – according to the Eye “thought to be no more than £5,000”. However, the paper has also been presented with a bill from Tesco’s lawyers’ (the notorious Carter-Ruck) for £800,000:

On 22 April, for instance, Nigel Tait made £100 by “watching item on Channel 4 News“. On 12 June he spent 12 minutes “reading/considering” an article in the Eye, which earned him another £100…One item in the £808,000 bill reads “Purchase of Guardian newspaper, 80p”.

There was also the advice of a barrister, worth exactly “£94,00.01”.

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