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Independent on Sunday offers blogger damages over ‘hooker’ headline

The Independent on Sunday has offered blogger Zoe Margolis “substantial” damages after the newspaper called her a ‘hooker’ in the headline of an article she had written.

The headline, ‘I was a hooker who became an agony aunt’, published in both the paper and online on 7 March 2010, was later corrected to ‘I’m a good-time girl who became an agony aunt’. The original version remained live on the mobile site for some time, before being removed.

On 12 March the IoS apologised for the error, which it said was written by the newspaper not Ms Margolis: “We accept that Ms Margolis is not and never has been ‘a hooker’ or otherwise involved in the sex industry. The wording of the headline was a mistake and seriously defamatory of Ms Margolis. We offer our sincere apologies to Ms Margolis for the damage to her reputation and the distress and embarrassment which she has suffered.”

A statement issued today, on behalf of Margolis, who writes the ‘Girl With a One Track Mind’ blog, said the author and blogger had been seriously defamed.

“The resulting affect of this libel was immeasurable, and Ms. Margolis was forced to issue legal proceedings against Independent News & Media Ltd,” says the release.

“These proceedings have now come to a conclusion and substantial damages have been offered to Ms. Margolis for the distress and impact to her reputation, both personal and professional, that this libel caused.”

A statement will be read out in court 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice in front of Mr Justice Eady tomorrow, Friday 21 May 2010 at 10.30am. Further information can be found at this link.

Margolis, who writes about her sex life on her blog and in her two books, told Journalism.co.uk that the amount of damages was substantial for a case of its kind, “but in no way vitiates the harm done by the libel, which is still having an effect on my life and no doubt will continue to do so”.

“I’m satisfied with the outcome, in that the Independent on Sunday have admitted that their printing that headline was ‘seriously defamatory’, and that they now have to state this on public record in court. But the damage and distress they’ve caused me are far greater than any apology they can make.

“So often, it seems, the media makes a conflation between women who talk about sex and sexual desire, with those who work in the sex industry.

She said that through her writing she had tried to show that this perspective was sexist. So, she said, “it was incredibly insulting and hurtful to then be described in this way in the article I wrote for them.

“It undermined everything I’ve ever written about and did indescribable damage to my reputation.”

Margolis said she thinks newspapers need to be “much, much more careful” about what goes up online.

“Print runs can be stopped, but as soon a libel exists on the web – as it did in my case, both in the title and in the URL itself – it’s impossible to halt that once it’s gone live via RSS.

“Editors and sub editors need to check, double-check and triple check the URLs and headers of articles before they get automated to the newspaper’s RSS feeds. I hope lessons can be learned by my case – but I doubt I’ll be the last person to be libelled in this way.”

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