Flat Earth News

Blog

Click here to go to the main blog page.

Select Blog :
Tagged: / Posted: 15 July 2008

I think that this shows a good example of what has being going on. This mans name has been dragged through the mud and his life potentially ruined, and the papers responsible get away very lightly indeed.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/15/law.pressandpublishi...

* Comment is free

"A small price for the press to pay for irresponsible behaviour

Eleven newspapers libelled Robert Murat. Unfortunately, it will take more than a £50,000 penalty to deter them in future
All comments (3)

* Roy Greenslade
*
o Roy Greenslade
o guardian.co.uk,
o Tuesday July 15, 2008
o Article history

"Robert Murat's libel settlement is hardly a surprise. Newspapers did overstep the mark in their reporting and, given the award to the McCanns in March, the outcome was entirely predictable.

The reason for the capitulation of 11 newspapers before the case reached court are very clear. All have very expensive legal teams and were advised by their separate batteries of lawyers that they had no hope of winning. Indeed, they might well end up paying out much more in terms of legal fees and, more tentatively, might also suffer from a loss of credibility among their audiences too (not that the credibility of most of the 11 is that high anyway).

The facts of the matter are unarguable. Murat was libelled. Not once, but many times over. Scores of reports, and many headlines too, defamed him. Like Kate and Gerry McCann, he was often treated not as a suspect by papers but as a culprit.

But these papers know the rules. So why did they get it so wrong? How did they fall into the trap of publishing so many wild and inaccurate stories in the aftermath of Madeleine McCann's disappearance?

I think there are three clear reasons. First, it happened overseas. Editors and reporters appeared to think that the overriding rule – the one based on that long-held British judicial precedent that regards everyone as innocent until proven guilty – was no longer relevant because it was a Portuguese case.

Second, the level of competition among all these newspapers meant that they outbid each other in an attempt to attract readers by printing ever more lurid allegations against the people supposedly connected to the girl's disappearance. Many of the stories, culled from anonymous sources (and, quite possibly, no sources at all) were utterly irresponsible and, most certainly, unprovable.

Papers were also competing against 24-hour news on TV and radio. Therefore they felt under pressure to get new angles on a story which has only ever had a couple of facts: a child vanished; the police named one man as a suspect – on the thinnest of evidence; the police later named the McCanns as suspects. Everything else was speculation.

Third, and this goes to the heart of the problem, these papers have been pushing at the boundaries of the British contempt rule for years. More is published about British crime suspects in advance of their being charged (and sometimes afterwards) than was ever the case 20 years ago. Why? Because they have got away with it. In very, very rare cases only have papers suffered for breaking the rules.

Some judges have asked attorney-generals to take a lot at certain cases, but nothing has come of it. The papers, standing by their claim to act in the greater public interest, have gradually began to publish clearly prejudicial material prior to trials. Will the McCann and Murat cases give them pause for thought? I doubt it because the punishment is so little compared to the rewards of adding to, or maintaining, readerships in a period of prolonged sales decline.

The 11 papers are being forced to pay out £550,000 between them – a little over £50,000 apiece - and that may seem like a small price to pay in order to continue their lawless activities while, of course, telling their readers that politicians are responsible for the (allegedly) awful state of law and order in Britain."

ends

>>> Archive of Nick Davies work >>>