Category Archives: Media Law

Clegg Calls for Journalists to get Public Interest Defence


According to Nick Clegg, journalists should be afforded a defence if they break the law in the course of pursuing information that is in the public interest. The Lib Dem leader suggested that journalists should be able to break some data protection, computer misuse and bribery laws in the pursuit of such information without fear of prosecution.

Clegg’s comments follow concerns about the way police have pursued those who provide information to journalists, which have led these areas of legislation to come under scrutiny. In order to pursue sources, police have been controversially gaining access to the phone records of journalists.

Clegg was speaking at his monthly press conference, ahead of an upcoming House of Lords debate where this kind of law will be proposed. The proposals will take the form of amendments to the crime and criminal justice bill.

Clegg suggested that “You probably need to put [the public interest defence] in the Data Protection Act, the Bribery Act, maybe one or two other laws as well, where you enshrine a public interest defence for you, for the press. So that where you are going after information and you’re being challenged, you can set out a public interest defence to do so.” The amendments tabled in the upcoming debate will propose the introduction of such a defence to both of these acts along with the Computer Misuse Act.

Sources within the Lib Dem party suggest express the opinion that the amendments may not be pushed to a vote, and that there was a good chance of reaching an agreement with the conservatives “in the not too distant future” that could see government proposals put forward. The official spokesman for the Prime Minister, when asked about the matter, said the government would look into matters thrown up as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) comes under review.

Separately from these claims, Clegg has also expressed support for the review if RIPA, and the possibility of greater protection for journalists whose records may be accessed by police. Clegg said on the matter that it is “incredibly important in a free society that journalists should be able to go after information where there’s a clear public interest to do so, without fear of being snooped upon or having all of their files kind of rifled through without clear justification.”

A separate proposed amendment to Section 55 of the Data Protection Act would see the sentence for accessing personal data unlawfully increased. Where currently the maximum penalty is a fine, this amendment would see the possibility of probation and community service. In more serious cases, it would also introduce the prospect of up to two years’ imprisonment.

Max Clifford Arrested in Operation Yewtree

The latest twist in the tale of Operation Yewtree, the investigation set up in the light of the Jimmy Savile sex scandal, sees PR guru Max Clifford arrested on suspicion of sexual offences. While the arrest, made on Thursday morning at Mr Clifford’s home in Surrey, was made by officers attached to Yewtree, it had been made clear that there is no connection with the allegations against Savile. Mr Clifford strenuously denies the allegations, and a source said he would assist the police ‘as best he can’.

Outspoken and Influential

Max Clifford is known as one of the most influential people in the UK media and has already spoken publically in the wake of the Savile allegations. He claimed, shortly after the story first broke, that many stars had contacted him fearful that they would be the subject of allegations. That Mr Clifford himself finds himself on the end of an enquiry has come as something of a surprise; he is a well respected member of the community with few blemishes on an outstanding career, although not afraid to speak his mind when confronted on various issues.

Three Strands of the Operation

Operation Yewtree has taken on a curious nature since it first began, and there are now known to be three strands to the investigation: the first looks specifically at Jimmy Savile, the second is referred to as ‘Savile and others’, and the third to people unconnected with the Savile allegations. It is to this group that the investigation into Mr Clifford belongs. Five people have now been arrested in relation to the investigation – Freddie Starr, Gary Glitter, TV producer Wilfred De’ath and DJ Dave Lee Travis (in addition to Clifford) and a sixth – unnamed – man in his 80’shas also been questioned. All have been released without charge.

Schofield in ITV Paedophile List Row

Popular TV presenter Philip Schofield is at the centre of a row following an appearance by Prime Minister David Cameron on the ITV breakfast show ‘This Morning’.  During the interview Schofield handed Mr Cameron a piece of paper upon which were written the names of four alleged paedophiles, believed to be linked with the Conservative party, that he had found by searching the internet. Broadcast regulator Ofcom has confirmed that complaints have been made.

Outrageous Stunt

The incident has been branded an ‘outrageous stunt’ by senior politicians, and Schofield has been forced to apologise. Ofcom has been urged, by Tory MP Rob Wilson, to investigate whether ITV has breached its duty to allow individuals a chance to respond before serious allegations were made about them. However, it should be noted that the names were not mentioned, and that it would be extremely difficult for those watching to read the list.

Cameron Also Criticised

The interview also led to criticism of Mr Cameron who appeared to directly link paedophilia with homosexuality. The Prime Minister warned that open discussion about alleged paedophile rings could lead to a ‘witch hunt’ against people who are gay. In addition, this has led many people to assume that the names on the list included gay politicians.

Tatchell Responds

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was quick to comment:

“There is no reason why he should link the current scandals with gay people or warn of an anti-gay witch-hunt. The current investigations concern paedophilia, not homosexuality.”

Schofield’s actions have been widely criticised in both broadcasting and political circles, especially with regard to the accuracy of the information he claimed to be presenting. Internet rumours are nothing but, and it is essential that broadcasters verify any claims in order to minimise the risk of legal action by anyone who is named in such a fashion.

Savile Estate Frozen

The estate of the late Jimmy Savile has been frozen in light of the allegations surrounding the former TV star and charity fundraiser. It has been revealed that Savile may have been a prolific abuser of under-age girls, with police now following over 300 leads. The saga has also embroiled a number of other stars from the era, many as yet un-named, with signer Gary Glitter and comedian Freddie Starr having been arrested and interviewed by the police. With an estate valued at around £4.3million, the NatWest – acting as executors of Savile’s will – has put a hold on distributing his assets as legal claims are expected from victims of assault.

26 Beneficiaries

It is believed that Savile’s will, written in 2006, names no fewer than 26 separate beneficiaries. The Financial Times claims to have seen a letter that instructs £20,000 to be given to each of 20 of the stars family, friends and neighbours. Furthermore, it claims a figure of £600,000 has been invested in a trust fund for a select group of people. The remainder was to be held by the NatWest on behalf of the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust, the future of which is doubtful following the allegations.

Family Concerns

Savile’s family has already removed the flamboyant headstone that marked his grave in order that other using the graveyard would not be disturbed by any trouble, and has issued an apology on behalf of the family members. With many victims now being adults, and a number of high-profile celebrities having contacted PR guru Max Clifford in fear of exposure, it is expected that there will be legal claims made for compensation from a wide variety of people who are now claiming they were abused by Savile. Scotland Yard is committed to a major in-depth investigation into the allegations.

The Rise of ‘Twitter Trolls’

The unstoppable rise in popularity of social networking media, in particular the incredibly popular Twitter and Facebook, has been marred by the emergence of so-called ‘trolls’; these are people who use the networks to post offensive and mocking comments about public figures and, increasingly often, victims of high-profile crime. The mindset of such people must be under question: what is to be gained by insulting someone who does not know you, and who has done you no harm, via electronic digital media? Yet there are growing instances of such actions, and also growing calls for laws to protect victims.

Tom Daley Case

One high-profile case was that involving abusive Twitter messages sent to Tom Daley, the young Olympic swimming star. Daniel Thomas, himself a semi-professional sportsman, was accused of sending abusive and ‘homophobic’ messages to Daley via Twitter. However, no charges were brought as the court concluded that the messages were “not so grossly offensive that criminal charges need to be brought”. This begs the questions as to where a line is drawn, and to who it is that decides when something is ‘grossly offensive’ enough to merit prosecution. The law as it stands is not clear, hence the calls for new legislation.

Bomb Threat Joke

Another well-publicised case was that involving Paul Chambers, who – in a fit of pique – jokingly threatened to ‘blow up’ Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster. The case was examined by the CPS and Thomas initially accused of ‘menacing communication’ but, again, no charges were brought. There is, of course, an element of standing up for free speech – a particular favourite in UK law – and it is arguable that, upon investigation, the threat was not found to be credible. However, who foots the cost of that investigation, one that could have been avoided very easily?

Facebook Trolls

Facebook, the other supremely popular social networking site, is well known for brushes with the law. There was a sense of outrage when murderer Raoul Moat was celebrated as a hero by fools after killing policemen, and similar sick tributes have been set up celebrating the recently arrested Dale Cregan, who shot two policewomen – in cold blood – in Manchester. Facebook is generally cooperative in such cases, but there are many instances where young people have been tormented to such an extent by ‘trolls’ that they have taken their own life. The law needs to be examined, and the outcome decreed; the times they are a ‘changing.

Defamation Cases on the Decline

It seems that the Leveson Inquiry, the recent investigation into allegations of phone hacking and media misbehaviour, may have had an impact already. Research has revealed that defamation cases in the UK have fallen over the year compared the same period 12months ago, indicating that media companies are changing their approach in many ways.
In the year leading up to May 31st there were a recorded 71 defamation cases through the courts, with the corresponding figure being 84 in the previous 12 months. This may not look particularly impressive on paper but it represents a 15% fall.

Concerns in the Media

The Leveson Inquiry has undoubtedly made media companies wary of possible defamation cases, and the feeling is that this will become more prominent in the light of the recent investigation. Korieh Duodo, a partner at media law firm
David Price Solicitors and Advocates, said:

“Phone hacking has put journalistic standards under the microscope like never before. Media companies are concerned [this] could lead to the imposition of a statutory media standards regulator, and they are have made every effort to put their own houses in order to avoid this.”

Privacy Injunctions

Some speculation has surrounded the possibility that celebrities who are seeking more control over their media profile may have used privacy injunctions to limit what the press can write. Duodo commented:

“Privacy injunctions became increasingly fashionable as they could prevent damaging articles from ever seeing the light of day. By contrast, defamation law cannot generally be used to prevent allegations being published, but only to set the record straight through an action for damages after the event. This made the privacy injunction an extremely powerful legal tool for individuals in the media spotlight.”

It remains to be seen what overall impact the Leveson findings will have on the future of the free press in the UK.