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Media Law 101

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Today was a day for media lawyers.

There are two sorts of media lawyers. Those who tend to work for publishers (nb. news organisations), and those who tend to work against publishers (e.g. Carter Ruck, Schillings). Both appeared today in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

Funnily enough, they didn’t agree.

Media lawyers for the press told the CMS Select Committee (based on reports, not on transcripts – though rather wonderfully, the proceedings can be viewed on the HofC video player) that libel costs were constraining press freedom because papers, especially regional papers, are not publishing stories that they are anxious could provoke a legal challenge (see journalism.co.uk). 

Media lawyers against the press told the Select Committee that legal action was often only necessary because, in the case of tabloid newspapers ‘As a policy they don’t notify. Victims – whether it’s a celebrities or anyone else, they aren’t told in advance. The damage is done, sometimes permanently’ (Mark Thomson, Carter Ruck, from Press Gazette).

Meanwhile, while lawyers made their case in front of the Select Committee, the government seemed to have already made its mind up about one issue. It would, according to Press Gazette, take steps to limit libel costs ‘unless compelling arguments emerge against doing so’. It based this ‘decision’ (is it a decision or a procrastination of a decision?) on the Ministry of Justice’s libel consultation paper.

If so, it should hurry up and take action so that the arguments about the principles behind Conditional Fee Agreements and about legal precedents surrounding privacy and public interest, can be discussed without being muddied by legal fees.

Even better if it would shift attention to the points Marcus Partington raised about the reluctance of newspapers to use the Reynolds defence and make precedents on that defence. Their reticence, according to Partington, is because using this defence means ‘you’re on a back foot’ (from Journalism.co.uk). This is a great shame because a better definition and understanding of the public interest defence would give journalists more confidence if threatened by legal action.

Written by Martin Moore

February 24th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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