Background and updates on Libel



Consumerism: Top Gear in clear

BACKGROUND: Any statement in disparagement of goods or their quality is defamatory if it reflects on the owner or manufacturer in his character as a person or a trader.Imputations that give most cause for complaint are dishonesty, carelessness or incompetence. The imputation of improper motives is a common libel risk. In the case of Walker Wingsails Systems v Yachting World the magazine contrasted the manufacturer's striking claims for a yacht's performance with those achieved by the journalist who test-sailed her. Yachting World claimed Fair Comment and denied the article meant the manufacturer had been dishonest but maintained the firm had made its claims carelessly and irresponsibly. They lost.

Lesson: The fact on which comment is based must be correct. Yachting World when making its criticisms, had failed to point out that the boat when tested by the magazine was far heavier than it had been when the manufacturer's performance claims were originally made and, in addition, its bottom had become badly fouled.
Which? always sends the factual results of its tests to the manufacturers but never the comments they are to make about the products.

Defamation to date
by Heather Rogers QC

1. The threshold of seriousness

2. Meaning/Justification/Comment
3. The Reynolds/Jameel defence

Jack of Kent's guide to libel reform

"The correct purpose of defamation is to vindicate reputations. This means that the correct purpose of defamation is not to merely “manage” reputations. Nor is the correct purpose of defamation to “manage” the media. The use of defamation in these regards has led to it disconnecting from what it should be doing. The law and practice of defamation only makes any sense – only comes close to working with any efficacy – if cases go to full trial: where the defendant can put forward its defences and the court (usually a jury) can decide or not whether the claimant can vindicate his or her reputation."
Read Part 1 - vindicating reputations
How 2010's defamation actions were disposed of

Is religion getting a fair hearing?
Hardeep Singh case reignites debate

Inforrm's four-part debate on...

Burden of proof
Multiple publication
Should companies be able to sue?
Capping damages

Case Law

Twitter and libel tourism
Q.Privilege/Honest Comment
Honest comment/malicious falsehood
Innocent dissemination and the internet

The Reynolds roller-coaster



Get your facts right

Newspaper editor Matthew Lewin describes the day when, as a young journalist, he took a story to the renowned libel lawyer Peter Carter-Ruck.

“As we went through the piece, line by line and word by word,” said Lewin, “ the obstinate curtains impeding my understanding of the nature of allegation, defamation, supposition and real proof were finally lifted. I don’t remember his exact words but they were something along the lines of:

“It matters not what you know or believe to be true,or feel certain must be true, or is obviously true or must - as a matter of sheer logic - be true.

"What matters is what you can actually show to be true.

"Whenever you are unsure imagine yourself in the witness box in a case potentially involving many thousands of pounds in damages, under cross examination by a very sharp and very hostile barrister who barks at you:

‘What proof do you have personally, Mr Lewin, proof that you can actually show us, to substantiate that allegation? ’ ”

This is what happens when you don't

They said Ronaldo was drinking champagne and dancing without his crutches. He wasn't.
Telegraph pays libel damages to Ronaldo
Telegraph: 'Cristiano Ronaldo - apology
The settlement, incidentally, followed the rejection of an application by the Telegraph that the case be struck out as an abuse of process.The Telegraph claimed the case no longer served the purpose of protecting Ronaldo's reputation because the Mirror had already apologised publically for the same story and the costs and court resources involved in a trial would be disproportionate to any legitimate advantage to the player.The Telegraph’s application could not be reported until a settlement had been agreed.
Below is a link to the High Court judgement which includes a consideration of the Telegraph's application to have the case struck out (from par 23 onwards).
Ronaldo v Telegraph

Meanwhile, the BBC apologises “unreservedly” for false accusations which were later repeated, and exaggerated, by news organisations all around the world.
BBC apologises over Live Aid money reports
And the Independent simply used the wrong picture...........
Independent faces legal threat for Nazi war criminal splash




Reynolds v Times Newspapers in 1999 was one of the most important cases in libel law history. It acknowledged that there were certain stories of such public interest that the media, as the watchdogs of the public, had a duty to report them and the public at large had a vested interest in reading them.The ruling granted qualified privilege to those public interest stories provided the publisher had taken reasonable steps to ensure that what was published was accurate and fit for publication.

There would be no protection for accusations made in a casual, cavalier, slipshod or careless manner.Ten pointers were given to how the test for responsible journalism would be assessed. But the defence, in the words of one legal expert, was in danger of withering away when the ten pointers were applied to stories by judges hostile to the spirit of Reynolds It took the House of Lords judgement in the Jameel v Wall Street Journal case to revitalise the defence.

Then, however, the inherent uncertainty attaching to the Reynolds defence was illustrated in Flood v Times Newspapers.The Court of Appeal overturned an earlier High Court decision to grant the Times Reynolds privilege after they printed allegations of corruption against a police officer.The three judges sitting in the Court of Appeal said that the newspaper had not done enough to verify the information they had received from their sources. The trial judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, thought the paper had.

Siobhain Butterworth, the former readers' editor at The Guardian who is now practising as a lawyer, commented: "Flood's case shows it is perfectly possible (likely even) for a careful and thoughtful judge to come to one decision about what constitutes responsible journalism and for three appeal judges to arrive at a completely different conclusion on the same facts. That makes the Reynolds privilege defence so uncertain as to be of little practical use."

Listed below are the House of Lords judgements in both the Reynolds and the Jameel cases plus a story from The Guardian which underlines the importance of the Jameel ruling....

House of Lords - Reynolds v. Times Newspapers Limited and Others
Law lords give media shield against libel in landmark ruling | Media | The Guardian
House of Lords - Jameel and others (Respondents) v. Wall Street Journal Europe Sprl (Appellants)

..... then Ms Butterworth's commentary on the Flood case.

Times libel ruling shows Reynolds privilege is of little practical use | Siobhain Butterworth | Law |