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Independent: Max Mosley ‘bankrolling’ legal costs of phone hacking victims

May 5th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Max Mosley, the former Formula One chief who won £60,000 in damages in a privacy action against the News of the World, is “bankrolling phone-hacking victims’ fight against the tabloid”, the Independent reported today.

Based on an interview with Vanity Fair, Mosley, who is currently battling for a legal “right to notification” for individuals before a newspaper publishes allegations about them, is said to have agreed to underwrite the legal costs of “an unknown number of people”.

Last month News International announced it was to admit liability “in a number of cases” brought against the News of the World for phone hacking between 2004 and 2006. The owner of the tabloid also said it will make an “unreserved apology” to some of the claimants taking civil action against the title, in cases meeting “specific criteria”.

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Radio 4: Max Mosley discusses press freedom and privacy

BBC Radio 4 programme On The Ropes has an interview with Max Mosley. The former F1 chief discusses his calls for new privacy laws.

He has now taken his case to the European Court of Human Rights; he wants the British government to be forced to introduce a law which would require journalists to inform people about stories featuring them, before they appear. This would allow time for an injunction to be issued, preventing publication. Journalists are against this proposal, saying it would hamper legitimate investigative journalism.

Listen to the Max Mosley interview at this link.

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Peter Noorlander: Strasbourg court must reject prior notification

Peter Noorlander of the Media Legal Defence Initiative has a post up on Index on Censorship warning that the European Court of Human Rights must reject Max Mosley’s prior notification action or risk grave consequences for the free media.

Such a rule would be disastrous for investigative reporting of all kinds — by the media as well as by NGOs. It would mean that a local paper that has been leaked documents showing corruption in the local council, for example, would be forced to notify those named in the story. The subjects would without doubt take out an injunction, probably on grounds of breach of confidence, and the story could not be published for months…

Read the full post on Index at Censorship at this link.

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Radio 4: Max Mosley outlines ‘really very simple’ privacy claim prior to Strasbourg hearing

In an interview on this morning’s Radio 4 Today show, Max Mosley outlined the reasons behind his attempt to change privacy laws in Strasbourg today.

The former FIA chairman outlined the ruling as a “really very simple thing” in which newspapers alert public figures if information “they know [public figures] should like to keep private” was to be published.

Claiming the figure was based on information from the PCC Rule Committee, Mosley said: “In 99 out of 100 cases if [the press] are going to write something of any interest about someone they will approach the person first.”

He argued that the MPs involved in the expenses scandal were approached before their information was printed and that it was only when “newspapers are concealing from you something they know is illegal and then printing it, knowing that you can’t put it right” that the new rules would apply. Mosley said that this was “a very narrow point [he’s] in Strasbourg on”.

As the Guardian reported this morning, members of the press are contesting Mosley’s proposed changes to the law:

The case is being vigorously contested by a number of media organisations, which argue that the change would create opportunities for injunctions, delaying publication and violating the media’s right to freedom of expression.

“[Mosley] is a wealthy international public figure with a penchant for satisfying sexual desires by beating women, and being beaten by them,” said Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing media organisations who have intervened in the case. “He pays prostitutes to engage with him in mildly sadomasochistic orgies, and campaigns for a law that will enable the truth about such ‘private’ conduct to remain secret. The vast scope of the new law which is contended for … is so vague as to be unworkable.”

You can hear Mosley’s interview on Radio 4 here.

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Former News of the World journalist defends phone-hacking at lively debate

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal was once again in the spotlight last night, this time at City University where reporters, lawyers, a former tabloid editor and a victim of the NotW’s close attention gathered to debate the question: “How far should a reporter go? The lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking story.”

Former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan spoke largely in defence of the newspaper and its practices, revealing that he had been contacted three times by the Metropolitan police following his recent admission of illegally obtaining information while at the newspaper.

McMullan is one of a string of former NotW staff to confess to phone-hacking, both on the record and anonymously, and allege that the practice was widespread at the newspaper. He admitted last night that he had illegally hacked voicemail accounts, bank accounts and medical records for an investigation into cocaine smuggling.

Appearing alongside McMullan were: former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade, who elected to speak on behalf of the NotW in the absence of a senior figure from the newspaper; former director of public prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald; Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who broke the story initially and has reported on it extensively; former head of the FIA Max Mosley, who won record damages of 60,000 from the newspaper in a privacy action, and defamation lawyer Mark Lewis, who has represented many of those claiming damages from the NotW after the scandal. The debate was chaired by Andrew Caldecott QC.

Guardian reporter Nick Davies began by apologising to the NotW for “saying some beastly things about it” and said they were unlucky to get caught out in an industry-wide practice

I should start off by apologising to the NotW, in a way I feel sorry for them. It’s sheer fluke and bad luck that that particular newspaper is the subject of all this attention. It’s just because one journalist Clive Goodman got caught hacking the voicemail not of an ordinary punter but of the royal family. All of us with our headlights on know very well that this illegal activity was going on in most Fleet Street newsrooms.

Davies even drew attention to the naming of the Guardian’s sister paper the Observer by the Information Commissioner’s report on obtaining of phone records. But despite his apologies he was unequivocal in his distaste for the phone-hackers: “I’ve had enough. Even though I’m a reporter I want a law to protect me from these creatures. These people have no business in our phone calls, they have no business in our bedrooms.”

Davies did however speak out in support of a law which would give reporters additional powers to hack into telephones and voicemail accounts where there was a demonstrable public interest.

What we’ll discover as we go through this evening is that a lot will cluster around two simple words, ‘public interest’ (…) I would go so far as to say I would like to see a change in the law to allow journalists to intercept voicemail messages if it’s in the public interest. The huge problem is that nobody knows where the boundaries of that concept are.

Well, as Roy Greenslade pointed out in his terrifically acted (if somewhat comical) turn defending the NotW, “What is the public interest to the Guardian and the Observer is very different when you reach the celebrity agenda of the Sun and the NotW.”

Paul McMullan clearly has a very different concept of public interest to Nick Davies and especially to Max Mosley, with whom he repeatedly clashed. McMullan said, in answer to “How far should a reporter go?” that “if you want to get ahead in journalism you have to go as far as you possibly can, there is no limit”.

I think privacy is the thing we really have to fight against, privacy is the place where we do bad things. We hide our misdemeanors embarassments and things we wouldn’t want to have to tell our wives and children we were up to and then we say privacy, it’s my private life, I can break my marital contract, I can have a completely false public perception when actually, I’m a grubby little sinner.

Mosley, on the other hand, is clearly more of a fan of the French way of doing things. He claimed throughout that the private lives of public figures have no bearing on their public life, dismissing McMullan’s notion that there was a legitimate public interest in reavealing the private actions of those who presented themselves as family men, or who were said to be role models.

…there is this mad argument ‘oh we should expose Tiger Woods or Mr [John] Terry because they tell the world they are great family men and they’re not. This is the idea that people go to watch John Terry play football or Tiger Woods pay golf, and they say to themselves ‘why am I going to see him, oh because he’s a wonderful family man’. It’s so absurd.

Mosley was very firm in his belief that jounalists should not be able to get away with breaking the law because they decide it serves the public interest. Defamation lawyer Mark Lewis pointed out that if the police want to tap somebody’s phone they have to approach the home secretary first for permission, with prima facie evidence, and not just go on a “fishing expedition” if they so decide.

Sir Ken Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, countered that their argument was “too simplistic”, arguing that without journalists bending, or perhaps breaking the law, a huge number of important public interest stories would not have been published. Macdonald also expressed concern about allowing public figures to live “entirely parallel lives”, which he said could lead journalists to “an attitude of deference to those in power and to cultural elites”.

His comment prompted an audience member to ask whether a hypothetical story about David Cameron being caught with call girls had legitimate public interest. Given what this information would tell us about the judgement of the country’s prime minister in opening himself up to bribery and coercion, Nick Davies was surprisingly unsure whether he thought this constituted public interest.

Repeatedly mentioned of course was Cameron’s director of communications and former NotW editor Andy Coulson. Last night’s Dispatches documentary featured a former senior NotW journalist claiming, anonymously, that the former editor had listened to hacked voicemail messages. Coulson has continually denied any knowledge of phone-hacking, despite recent accusations in the New York Times that he sanctioned the practice. Roy Greenslade, in his role as the newspaper’s defender, sounded quite convinced in his support of Coulson, inparticular Coulson’s claim that he wouldn’t neccessarily have known or even asked about the provenance of stories. According to Greenslade:

Editors don’t have to know every intimate detail on this occasion I don’t think he did (…) A lot of people here will say ‘of course he knew’, but it seems perfectly feasible to me that you don’t neccessarily know every detail about the methodology.

The panelists debated various possible ways of negotiating the difficult terrain between freedom of the press and privacy, with Max Mosley calling for the law to require prior notification on issues which the subject of the story might not want publicised. Mosley’s strict position was largely dismissed by the journalists present, who saw the extent to which it could compromise a free press. Nick Davies suggested a variation on the idea, in which editors could approach a “council of wise men” who (quite who was never clarified) could arbitrate and advise on publication, with their recommendation taken in to account if the editor was challenged post-publication.

The risk all these possible regulatory measures pose to freedom of the press was articulated of course, leaving the panel not much closer to a workable solution to the problem by the end. But it was a spirited debate which generated decent conversation about some of the issues at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal and well-demonstrated the difficulty of satisfying both the need for freedom of the press and the need for privacy.

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#iq2privacy: Privacy, the press, and Max Mosley

September 7th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Press freedom and ethics

Journalism.co.uk will be at tonight’s ‘Sex, bugs and videotape’ debate organised by Intelligence Squared. Given this week’s renewed focus on phone hacking at the News of the World and debates on the privacy of footballers and public interest, tonight’s proceedings are pretty timely.

Proposing the motion that the private lives of public figures deserve more protection from the press will be Rachel Atkins, a partner at Schillings law firm; and Max Mosley, no stranger to the News of the World and secret videotaping himself.

Speaking against the motion are Tom Bower, journalist and author of books on Robert Maxwell and Richard Desmond; and Ken MacDonald QC, defence lawyer and former director of public prosecutions.

You can follow tweets from the event with the hashtag #iq2privacy or in the liveblog below:

Sex, bugs and videotape – privacy and the media debate

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Your guide to the CMS report on press standards, privacy and libel

February 24th, 2010 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Legal

It’s been going on for a year, but the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has finally published its report into press standards, privacy and libel in the UK.

You can read the 169-page report in full below, but we’ve highlighted some of the most interesting points in the report in this post.

Background:

The committee’s hearings and subsequent report cover a lot of ground: self-regulation of the press; libel law in the UK; privacy and the press – in particular the News of the World and Max Mosley; standards of journalism – in particular in relation to the reporting of suicides in Bridgend and the Madeleine McCann case; and allegations of phone hacking at News of the World.

In the committee’s own words:

This report is the product of the longest, most complex and wide-ranging inquiry this committee has undertaken. Our aim has been to arrive at recommendations that, if implemented, would help to restore the delicate balances associated with the freedom of the press. Individual proposals we make will have their critics – that is inevitable – but we are convinced that, taken together, our recommendations represent a constructive way forward for a free and healthy UK press in the years to come.

Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report into press standards, privacy and libel

Page guide and key quotes:

  • p10: the questions/issues that provoked the inquiry by the committee are set out.
  • p18: recommendation for “a fast-track appeal system where interim injunctions are concerned, in order to minimise the impact of delay on the media and the costs of a case, while at the same time taking account of the entitlement of the individual claimant seeking the protection of the courts”.
  • p18: report says Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and the courts should collect data on number of injunctions refused or granted and the impact of Section 12 of the Human Rights Act on interim injunctions.
  • p23: On Max Mosley and the News of the World: “We found the News of the World editor’s attempts to justify the Max Mosley story on ‘public interest’ grounds wholly unpersuasive, although we have no doubt the public was interested in it.”
  • p27: Focus on Justice Eady “shaping” UK privacy law is “misplaced”.
  • p31: Recommendations for the PCC to include guidance to newspapers on pre-notification.
  • p33: On Trafigura/Carter-Ruck and reporting parliamentary proceedings.
  • p40: Defendants in libel cases should still be required to prove the truth of their allegations, says the report.
  • p45: On the cost and difficulties of mounting a Reynolds Defence and whether this should be put on a statutory footing.
  • p54-55: The committee asks for better data collection on cases of ‘libel tourism’.
  • p59: On the single-publication rule and newspaper archives: “In order to balance these competing concerns, we recommend that the government should introduce a one year limitation period on actions brought in respect of publications on the internet.”
  • p72-76: On Conditional Fee Arrangements (CFAs) and After The Event Insurance (ATE) in defamation cases.
  • p82: Recommendations for better headline writing to improve press standards.
  • p91: Criticism of the press and the PCC for the handling of the Madeleine McCann case: “The newspaper industry’s assertion that the McCann case is a one-off event shows that it is in denial about the scale and gravity of what went wrong, and about the need to learn from those mistakes. In any other industry suffering such a collective breakdown – as for example in the
    banking sector now – any regulator worth its salt would have instigated an enquiry. The
    press, indeed, would have been clamouring for it to do so. It is an indictment on the
    PCC’s record, that it signally failed to do so.”
  • p95-6: On moderating comments on websites and user-generated material: “The Codebook [upheld by the Press Complaints Commission] should be amended to include a specific responsibility to moderate websites and take down offensive comments, without the need for a prior complaint. We also believe the PCC should be proactive in monitoring adherence, which could easily be done by periodic sampling of newspaper websites, to maintain standards.”
  • p101-3: On NOTW and phone hacking: “It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone-hacking by Glenn Mulcaire will never be known.”
  • p114: Guardian articles on phone hacking did contain new evidence, but committee has heard now evidence that such practices are still ongoing.
  • p121: On the PCC: “The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.”
  • p123-5: Recommendations for a more independent PCC.
  • p126: Peter Hill’s resignation from the PCC.
  • p128: Criticism for how the PCC reports statistics of complaints it receives: “In particular, contacts from members of the public which are not followed up with the appropriate documentation should not be considered as true complaints.”
  • p129: A new system for “due prominence” of corrections and apologies by newspapers?
  • p130: Proposals for the PCC to have the power of financial sanctions.

In-depth coverage on Journalism.co.uk:

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PCC’s credibility under attack

The Press Complaints Commission is once again under attack for its structure and effectiveness as a self-regulatory body.

Last night the Guardian reported how Sir Ken Macdonald, ­visiting professor of law at the LSE and the former director of public prosecutions, had called for “all credible media organisations” to withdraw from the “farcical” Press ­Complaints Commission (a plea which was made by Geoffrey Robertson QC last year).

The event for editors and lawyers also featured Max Clifford, former Formula 1 chief Max Mosley, former TV presenter Anna Ford, the editors of the Guardian and the Financial Times, and the deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph. The Guardian also reported:

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, said the credibility of the PCC was “clinging by its fingertips” and that recent investigations had been “embarrassing”. The PCC’s current review should work out whether it has the capacity to be a regulator or a mediator, he said.

It’s timely then, to compare Rusbridger’s quotes from last night, with Stephen Abell’s comments this week, in his first media interview since becoming director of the PCC:

Abell told Journalism.co.uk that he didn’t believe Rusbridger’s resignation from the PCC code committee Editors’ Code of Practice Committee weakened the body at all:

Alan Rusbridger has said it [the code committee] does a good job (…) I think these arguments happens within industries but I think it’s perfectly acceptable to move on from that. I don’t think it weakens the PCC in any way that Alan is leaving an industry body that he was a member of for a while. You don’t have every editor on the code committee anyway (…) I think it’s tremendous merit that Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian was on the code committee for as long as he was.

Journalism.co.uk’s interview with Stephen Abell (who took over as PCC director in December 2009):

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Max Mosley repeats call for “right to notification”

As reported by Journalism.co.uk two weeks ago, former Formula One chief, Max Mosley, is repeating his call for a legal “right to notification” before a newspaper publishes allegations about an individual.
Interviewed this morning on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mosley said that such notification would give an individual time to go to a judge to convince them to stop publication:

“But its a very hard task to convince a judge because you have to show you are likely to win the ultimate case.”

And he added that there was “no public interest” in the publication of allegations about the private life of the England football captain, John Terry.

Full story at this link…

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Myler on Mosley: ‘I make no apologies for publishing that story as editor’

May 5th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Legal

Colin Myler, News of the World, was up in front of a House of Commons select committee today, as part of an inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel.

Unsurprisingly Myler and News Group Newspapers’ lawyer Tom Crone were questioned about the Max Mosley case – though, as a new writ has been issued against the paper by Mosley, some responses had to be curtailed.

Nevertheless, some good nuggets from Myler and Crone on the consequences of publishing the story and why the NOTW broke it:

  • The costs of the Mosley trial came to around £900,000 with £100,000 damages, according to Crone.
  • Myler:

“Mr Mosley made quite a case that he’d never sought publicity, that he was a private person. I disagree with that fundamentally.

“For a man in his position (…) who so wrecklessly put himself in the hands of five prostitutes (…) you have to say you played some part in your own downfall.”

  • Myler: “Rarely in these situations are there any commercial benefits despite what people might think.”
  • A family newspaper: “I don’t agree that it was an unsuitable story for a family newspaper. Some people might sneer and say that we are scurrilous and scaberous but we are who we are. I make no apologies for publishing that story as editor.
  • Chilling effect of Mosley case? “I don’t think it’s had a chilling effect. It’s had a very practical effect on me as an editor and how you conduct yourself (…) I spend as much time talking to lawyers as I do journalists.

    “It doesn’t mean to say that you shy away, it means that you have to be equally diligent, efficient and careful and get very good legal advice.”

Myler also went on to discuss the issue of ‘celebrity stings’ by the NOTW, saying that while journalist Mazher Mahmood was widely known as the ‘fake sheikh’, he is also ‘one of the most professional newspaper journalists in the world’.

“He has been responsible for convicting and jailing 232 criminals. This is a man that puts himself in great danger and does so with such a professional aplomb that any media organisation would be proud to be associated with it,” he said.

Mahmood’s talents, said Myler, as increasingly being used for stories on immigration and religious radicalism: “There is some serious journalism within the News of the World.”

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