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January 17, 2009 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Journalism and complex public issues - a British newspaper editor's travails
posted by Gyan (8 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a big fan of Rusbridger but that was an excellent article. Unfortunately he missed the main point which is why the hell is it the Guardian and not HMRC who is investigating the staggering amounts of money stolen from the public.
posted by fullerine at 1:01 AM on January 18, 2009

One of the major problems with restraining, suing, attacking or regulating corporations generally is the way in which they twist into smoke and reform as "new" entities somehow "not responsible" for the deeds of the old. I wonder why newspapers do not take a leaf from that same book and re-incorporate for each separate issue, such that each issue is nominally produced by a different news company which is, each day, wound up and its assets (including copyright in, but not responsibility for, previous issues) sold to the next in line.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:33 AM on January 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Aeschenkarnos: The single-issue companies might be viewed as not a bona fide company under UK law, and even if it was the assets of the company would have to be sold at fair market value. The value of copyright in all previous issues would be extremely high.

You would then have to find a way to transfer the money back from the previous issue's company to the current one. That would be difficult to do without it being clearly an attempt to avoid paying any libel judgement, as the current issue's company would not have anything to sell back for fair market value.

US law may differ, but I heavily suspect not. This is not legal advice.
posted by jaduncan at 3:43 AM on January 18, 2009

The Guardian, a large national newspaper with estimated daily readership of around 1.2 million, printed an article about Tesco, a national behemoth that has no previous history of dodgy dealings, claiming that they were avoiding paying $1.7billion in tax. In order to make it very clear that the article was false, Tesco launches a legal challenge and the editor of The Guardian, now admitting that the article was false, is upset that Tesco won't just take a retraction and leave them to continue their high quality investigative journalism.

How certain were the journalists (and editor) that their analysis was accurate? Enough to publish something that would cause any company to fight hard if untrue? And the whinging that Tesco didn't go after Private Eye because they only published things that were true?

The only thing this has to do with free speech is that a newspaper editor is trying to hide a failure behind it.
posted by quiet at 4:41 AM on January 18, 2009

a national behemoth that has no previous history of dodgy dealings

They've got a history of them now
posted by fullerine at 4:52 AM on January 18, 2009

quiet: In order to make it very clear that the article was false, Tesco launches a legal challenge

As the editor states:
How, in a more perfect world, could an offended retailer and a newspaper have settled their differences? One option would have been for Tesco to have appealed to The Guardian's independent readers' editor (the only such ombudsman among the British daily papers). In its eleven years of existence, the readers' editor has dealt with numerous serious complaints against the The Guardian. In those years there has been only one instance in which a complainant subsequently felt the need to go to court. Another route would have been for Tesco to have complained to the news industry's self-regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, which offers free and quick mediation of issues that parties can't resolve between themselves. Both options would have been preferable to what actually happened.
Tesco would have retained the right to sue, if the above avenues weren't bearing fruit.

How certain were the journalists (and editor) that their analysis was accurate?

As we were to discover—if belatedly—the only route to total prepublication self-protection in these matters is to spend tens of thousands of dollars on tax, accountancy, and legal advice. Essentially, the only people qualified to produce wholly authoritative libel-proof assurance are the very people involved in constructing the strategies under scrutiny. They do not come cheap—and many of them have conflicts of interest. Some would give advice in private, but would not speak in public or in court.
In short, to avoid the risk of libel, you may have to hire the very people you are be in danger of libeling. Hardly conducive to journalism intended to perform a public auditory role. As even the quote from Financial Times says,
Unfortunately, financial journalists—and the FT has better-trained financial journalists than others—don't really understand this stuff, and they join a long list of people that starts with bank regulators, central bank regulators and money managers
Tesco, a national behemoth that has no previous history of dodgy dealings

No longer true. What the Guardian seems to have gotten wrong is not the fact of tax avoidance, but the details of which tax Tesco was avoiding:
In the Tesco strategy, there was a complex structure designed to deprive the Revenue of Stamp Duty Land Tax, not corporation tax, and an experienced reporter, trained in accountancy, who got it completely wrong. It took us some time—including meetings with lawyers, forensic accountants, and especially qualified senior tax lawyers—before we fully understood the nature of this strategy, and thus the true nature of our error.
posted by Gyan at 4:59 AM on January 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Whether we are dealing with banks, taxation, security, religion, or climate change, we need more than ever to find ways of encouraging, not penalizing, news organizations that try to report matters of the greatest complexity and significance.

Why we know less than ever about the world...
posted by kliuless at 6:09 AM on January 18, 2009

Update: Firms' secret tax avoidance schemes cost UK billions. Also, a database of FTSE 100 companies with tax details.
posted by Gyan at 9:51 PM on February 1, 2009

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