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Big Brother Watch: How an investigative journalist lost his job because of the UK’s libel system

October 30th, 2009Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Fascinating post from journalist Willard Foxton, until recently in charge of investigative title Chambers Report, on how the threat of libel caused him to lose his job.

Foxton ran a story on a Middle East branch of a British law firm, whose expansion had gone ‘catastrophically’ wrong. Despite countless interviews, multiple sources and an acceptance of truth from the firm, the title was still issued with a writ by the individual at the centre of the story – the only person Foxton had not asked if it was true (as part of the Reynolds defence) for fear of an injunction against publication.

“[I]n this case, the evidence was so strong (right down to senior people referring off the record to this individual as ‘the worst person we have ever hired’), I felt totally confident that we were safe,” writes Foxton.

“I was wrong. Really, really quite wrong.”

The cost of defending the legal action – and the potential cost of losing – were too much for the publisher: the magazine was closed and Foxton fired.

“It’s not just the publisher who could get sued either – because of the state of our libel laws, our distributors, our internet host, everyone even connected to us or the toxic-but-true article could be sued.

“He [my employer] sat me down in his office, told me he respected me as a journalist – respected me so much, in fact that he wants me to keep writing for his publishing firm – but said that libel scared him far too much to take risks.

“So there you go. A rich man in the emirates launches a libel writ against a UK publication for writing true things, and the publication gets shut down. I lost my job; the journalist who wrote the story received a written warning about his conduct. Why? Because we uncovered and exposed the truth.”

Full post at this link…

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