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Newspaper owner loses libel case in UK
July 23, 2009 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Suing for libel, UK newspaper proprietor Richard Desmond made a point of denying that he exerts any influence over stories appearing in his papers. He lost his case today, but reading his paper's website, you'd be forgiven for thinking he'd actually won it!

The result came in spite of the trial being in front of Justice Eady, notorious for siding with so-called "libel tourists," which some have claimed contributes to a "chilling effect" on free speech in the UK. Notwithstanding his malign influence the jury found in favour of the defendant, journalist Tom Bower, whose biography of another somewhat delusional newspaper proprietor, Conrad Black, was the subject of the action.
posted by salo (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
salo: "which some have claimed contributes to a 'chilling effect' on free speech in the UK."

Free speech in the UK? Isn't that an oxymoron?
posted by mullingitover at 3:32 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm fooled.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:36 PM on July 23, 2009


It took me 3 seconds of looking at the daily express homepage to determine the newspaper is completely full of shit.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 3:36 PM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Have your say is unavailable for this article". What was that about chilling effects on free speech?
posted by minifigs at 3:38 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Speak your brains.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:51 PM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Owners of media outlets should be free to influence content as much as they like.

Especially Matt Haughey, who's as good looking as he is wise, sources say.
posted by djgh at 3:54 PM on July 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


The result came in spite of the trial being in front of Justice Eady, notorious for siding with so-called "libel tourists,"

Wait, is this website hosted in the US? Why, yes it is.

I'm shocked this is the same Justice Eady who only recently made an astonishingly stupid ruling against Simon Singh in his case against the BCA. I was in the belief that Eady is a consistently malign influence on British libel cases, but now I know he's just randomly incompetent.

Also, Desmond is a nasty cunt.
posted by Sova at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wait a minute... When did the Daily Express stop having "Diana" as a top-level news category? I NEED MY DEAD PRINCESS NEWS.

[does Ctrl-F]

So much harder now. Oh well.

BURRELL SAYS IT WITH FLOWERS HE MAY have made a fortune cashing in on the name of the late Princess Diana but royal blabbermouth...
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:17 PM on July 23, 2009


Two of the female jurors were even given a kiss by the moustachioed biographer. Not even Jeffrey Archer did this, muttered one Fleet Street veteran.

Hahaha.

It's great to see the Dirty Digger get his comeuppance.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 4:17 PM on July 23, 2009


If Desmond doesn't exert influence over his papers' editorial policy, perhaps he should start. Anything would be better than their current fascist ranting.
posted by athenian at 4:22 PM on July 23, 2009


Wow, just wow.
posted by furtive at 4:26 PM on July 23, 2009


"His biggest mistake was in thinking I would not go to court to uphold my reputation and the resulting action has cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds to defend a few ill-thought-out remarks that were not even essential to his book.”

OK.

Oh, he owns newspapers!
posted by Dumsnill at 4:31 PM on July 23, 2009


As far as I can tell, there are three reputable British media outlets (Guardian, Economist, BBC). The others would handlily beat my expectations if libel was their most serious crime.
posted by martens at 4:36 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Financial Times is probably one of the nest newspapers in the world, the Telegraph and Scotsman are proper papers and the Sunday Herald does good stuff occasionally. Not all doom and gloom.
posted by Abiezer at 4:54 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


err, best, Might make a nice pink hamster nest too, I suppose.
posted by Abiezer at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2009


DAILY EXPRESS OWNER: I SET RECORD STRAIGHT

Hey Asshole,
Isn't that basically what you were being accused of in the first place?
Duh,
posted by Sys Rq at 4:58 PM on July 23, 2009


I sued Mr Bower for defamation because he made inaccurate and damaging allegations about me, yet he refused to apologise and publish a correction.

Question: Would making such a statement and printing it in one's own newspaper--after a jury had decided the contrary--qualify as libel?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:03 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


> I NEED MY DEAD PRINCESS NEWS.

GENERALISSIMO LADY DIANA IS STILL DEAD.
posted by ardgedee at 5:04 PM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


As far as I can tell, there are three reputable British media outlets (Guardian, Economist,...

Interestingly, the first two you mention were born from, and at opposite ends of, the anti Corn Law movement.

The Independent is also regarded as a good news paper also.
posted by Sova at 6:06 PM on July 23, 2009


Free speech in the UK? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Interesting thing about oxymorons is that they are not, as many of us have come to believe, simple contradictions in terms, but are little paradoxes employed on purpose for literary or poetic effect. So while "deafening silence" is an oxymoron because it's been done on purpose to fill you with dread/awe/whatever, "free speech in the U.K." is merely a contradiction.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:33 PM on July 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


Yes, but oxymoron has that pleasant auditory connotation of moronity, much as people employ the term asinine because it includes the phoneme "ass".

which, I believe, depends upon a point of (not necessarily preferable) pronunciation which might be lost on this thread, if as I believe it were it's mainly being peopled by Brits.
posted by 7segment at 7:41 PM on July 23, 2009


_██_
(ಠ_ృ)

Churchill stares impassively at you in dismay.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:52 PM on July 23, 2009 [16 favorites]


To the editor of the Daily Express website:

Dear Mr Marsh,

I have a question about the story on your website, "Daily Express Owner: I Set The Record Straight", about the recent court case.

Having read your story, I can't find anything about the verdict or outcome. Could you let me know who won the case?

Many thanks,

quarsan

In the meantime mefi's might like to read John Cooper Clarke's poem You never see a nipple in the Daily Express
posted by quarsan at 10:45 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sometimes the entire UK libel controversy gets distorted.

I haven't got the time to get into details of who was right or wrong, but off the Guardian story: " ... for a defendant to win a libel case is an exceptionally rare thing."

Why might this be a rare thing?

Well, the UK isn't the US where someone can publish a libelous story on Friday afternoon, and be in court Monday AM (or at least sometime early the next week); defending themselves; there is something called the pre action protocol on defamation that very precisely defines what each party must do and say, and in what time periods, in order to keep the dispute out of court.

The courts here seriously don't want to deal with libel. And neither party should, if they've got any sense, as UK Libel actions are heard in High Court (expensive Solicitors), with the case decided by a jury (meaning risk of an unfavourable outcome is much, much higher).

I write this as I've got personal experience with Libel in the UK, having gotten involved in politics here, spoken up several times and when they couldn't attack the message they went after the messenger.

I've been trying to keep that AskMe updated as best I can so others can see how the system works, but where we are now is we've sent what's called a "letter of demand". They have 14 working days to respond.

The other can make an offer of amends (starting with an apology, retraction, etc).

If an offer is advanced litigation isn't allowed while each side is talking. This can go back and forth for quite a while, with either side requesting this be taken to mediation (not sure if the mediation is binding or not).

If and only if both parties have agreed they can't progress this out of court, progress isn't possible can this go to court.

And that's where the real bills start.

About the only thing I can add is my Solicitor made me sign a disclaimer with lots of outs, but also mentioning (on its own page that had to be signed itself) that if we did go to court without considering the merits of my particular suit, there was no guarantee I'd win.

Loser pays winners legal bills, plus damages.

Its always interesting to read these "chilling effect on free speech in the UK" stories, but speaking from personal experience there is a lot going on behind the scenes we're not privvy to here.

I think two stubborn guys butted heads, nobody was willing to back down, issue apologies, suck it up, whatever, and decided to duke it out in court.

In other words I'm seeing a personal grudge two rich guys are acting out in any way possible.

Free speech in the UK? Alive and well as far as I can tell.
posted by Mutant at 12:21 AM on July 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Error. The Dirty Digger = Rupert.
Dirty Desmond is the pornographer: an appalling man. He is bad for British journalism. He’s bad for public life and he’s bad for civilised standards. Desmond's business ventures included such doubtlessly wholesome publications as The Very Best of Mega-Boobs and Spunk Loving Sluts, and specialist interest websites featuring 78-year-old women with their kit off.
Interesting background: The Rise and Fall of Richard Desmond.
Desmond is reckoned to be worth £950million so this was hardly a battle of equals. Bower is apparently planning a biography of Desmond and this seems like a typically bullying move to try and surpress it.
posted by adamvasco at 1:08 AM on July 24, 2009


The others would handlily beat my expectations if libel was their most serious crime.

I won't argue with your taste, but I can't help wondering what you expect the most serious crimes committed by the Telegraph, the Times - or for that matter the Sport - actually are.

Can't help feeling you could be on the receiving end of a juicy libel action here...
posted by Phanx at 1:39 AM on July 24, 2009


wow, that article really is misrepresenting the trial. good catch. alas, we're not really surprised, are we? is there really any quality daily newspaper left in london besides the guardian? even the times now prints cartoons (read:op-ed) right next to the articles they're lampooning.

btw, what's the best book on conrad black, hivemind?
posted by krautland at 1:40 AM on July 24, 2009


"free speech in the U.K." is merely a contradiction.

Actually until fairly recently the UK had a very permissive stance on free speech, a sort of 'everything goes' position. In fact you can attribute the pervalence of newspapers like the Daily Express to the extreme difficult of bring a successful libel case. The seperate notion of privacy is a fairly new introduction, only really coming into its own with the introduction of the 1998 Human Rights Act, before that it was linked to the notion of confidentiality and was more relational (you said you would keep that information private) than it was a seperate stand alone notion. Even now there is no overarching right to privacy, just areas where privacy is protected, such as from the paparazzi.

Privacy is an issue in the UK, not free speech. And frankly the whole "UK can't protect civil liberties" is not only intellectually lazy, but untrue.
posted by litleozy at 2:47 AM on July 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


also, what Mutant said
posted by litleozy at 2:48 AM on July 24, 2009


I see someone has already posted the Bard Of Salford's thoughts on the matter...

So I'll add this timeless classic: The ten things most likely to be on The Daily Express front page
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:58 AM on July 24, 2009


and frankly the whole "UK can't protect civil liberties" is not only intellectually lazy, but untrue.

When you're a failing empire with emptying coffers, unable to provide healthcare, education, or properly maintained roads to your citizens, or even buy your troops the weapons they want, I guess you have to find something that makes you feel better about yourself.

Post may also be deliberately lazy and of questionable veracity.
posted by rodgerd at 3:29 AM on July 24, 2009


When you're a failing empire with emptying coffers, unable to provide healthcare, education, or properly maintained roads to your citizens, or even buy your troops the weapons they want, I guess you have to find something that makes you feel better about yourself.

Heh, guess that pretty much applies to the whole of Europe.
ATLEAST WE HAVE OUR CULTURE!!
posted by litleozy at 3:31 AM on July 24, 2009


"Have Your Say is unavailable for this story"
Thank you for reading express.co.uk
... hopefully with adblock on.
posted by davemee at 3:34 AM on July 24, 2009


As far as I can tell, there are three reputable British media outlets (Guardian, Economist, BBC). The others would handlily beat my expectations if libel was their most serious crime.

Interesting that those are also the three trying hardest to make their names in the US.

But the impression you're getting is wrong. Britain is one of the most competitive newspaper markets in the world -- it's completely different from the one-city one-paper sleepy setup the US has, for instance. Scotland's even more competitive: 17 daily newspapers for a country of 5 million. Because of that, the competition is vicious, and they often go way too far. But you don't survive in a market like that if you're totally shit.

The Times might be a Murdoch paper, but it still breaks stories. The Independent is flirting with bankruptcy, but it still has ambitions to great international coverage. The Telegraph broke the MP Expenses row, admittedly after a leak, but they still put a ton of work into their 30-day coverage although they're suffering under the ownership of the Barclay Brothers, who already helped send the Scotsman into a death spiral. The FT has global standing. The Herald was a good paper until Gannett got its hands on it, but it still claims the odd scalp. Even The Express has a storied history -- it was in the premier league of papers in the 1960s.

And these are just the dailies. There's also the Sunday Times, Observer, Sindy, Sunday Herald ... and if you're adding the Economist to the list, then you've got all the other bi-weekly mags to think of, including Private Eye.

Just as in the US, the industry is now being laid low by idiotic management that overextended itself during a short window where the old-day profits were sent soaring by new technologies, but there's life in it yet. There might an impression that it's all Page 3 tits, News of the Screws and Daily Mail fuck-the-darkies and, yes, there are undoubtedly a lot of abuses, but there's much more to UK journalism than that.
posted by fightorflight at 3:48 AM on July 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Circulation figures for June 2009:

The Sun . . . . . . . . 3,028,302
Daily Mail . . . . . . . 2,201,088
Daily Mirror . . . . . . 1,330,301
Daily Star . . . . . . . . .870,457
Daily Telegraph . . . . .835,419
Daily Express . . . . . . 729,507
The Times . . . . . . . . 590,900
Financial Times . . . . .411,988
Daily Record . . . . . . .347,195
The Guardian . . . . . . 336,034
The Independent . . . .200,399
Racing Post . . . . . . . . 64,317
The Herald . . . . . . . . .57,756
The Scotsman . . . . . . .47,563

(Source here)

An interesting point to note is that the Sun and the Star outsell all the broadsheets. (For those not familiar with the Star, its like a less highbrow version of the Sun.)
posted by Kiwi at 5:51 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


When you're a failing empire...

Are you posting through a time-warp from the 1950s?

(or just New Zealand?)
posted by Phanx at 6:27 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in 2009 the words "failing empire with emptying coffers, unable to provide healthcare" surely brings another candidate to mind.
posted by rory at 6:56 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


words brings/bring/arggh
posted by rory at 6:57 AM on July 24, 2009


An interesting point to note is that the Sun and the Star outsell all the broadsheets.
Time for the (slightly outdated now) Yes Minister bit.

Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers.
The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country.
The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country.
The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country.
The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.
Financial Times is read by the people who own the country.
The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country.
And the Daily Telegraph is read by the people who think it is.

Humphrey: right Prime Minister, and what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, so long as she’s got big tits.
posted by fightorflight at 7:34 AM on July 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


ElmerFishpaw: It took me 3 seconds of looking at the daily express homepage to determine the newspaper is completely full of shit.

But ElmerFishpaw—you're talking about the world's greatest newspaper!

Kiwi: For those not familiar with the Star, it's like a less highbrow version of the Sun.

Ah—very true.

Also, for those not familiar with stinking molten shit, it's like a less highbrow version of fetid mud from a peat bog.
posted by koeselitz at 7:40 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


An interesting point to note is that the Sun and the Star outsell all the broadsheets.

And who was it said they didn't believe anyone in this country could be stupid enough to come out with the shit they managed here?

I was in a shop the other day and a woman in front of me was buying a copy of The Sun, and... I don't know I find it unbelievable enough when people buy anything that isn't a broadsheet, but whenever I see a woman reading The Sun I sort of feel like they've just missed the point.
As for the last office I worked in where I got snickered at for buying The Grauniad, while they all sat in the break room reading (well, staring at boobs in) The Daily Sport... Knuckledraggers the fucking lot of them. Lovely people, but... Gawd!
posted by opsin at 7:55 AM on July 24, 2009


whenever I see a woman reading The Sun I sort of feel like they've just missed the point

In the end I think this is why the Sun sells so well. If a portion of the country feels snubbed and patronised by the "toffs" then there's something slightly rebellious about going out and buying the worst newspaper you can, the newspaper you know will annoy the hell out of those haughty intellectuals. Add to that a sense of base community...

There is an argument where intellectuals, by distancing themselves from the masses to justify their own position, have fanned the all to easy populism of that the tabloids play to.

(opsin, nothing against you, just the idea you express that the Sun is "beyond the pail" probably helps their sales more than it damages them)
posted by litleozy at 8:15 AM on July 24, 2009


I don't particularly mind seeing people reading the Sun. I think a lot of people don't exactly take it seriously. Yeah it would be better if they were reading the Mirror of the 1970s but those days are long gone. I'll even flick through it myself while I'm waiting to get my hair cut...

But I get an automatic hate-on when I see anyone with the Mail.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:48 PM on July 24, 2009


Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, so long as she’s got big tits.

In it's original glory.
posted by rodgerd at 1:16 PM on July 24, 2009


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