Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Legal: UK Court Ruling a Blow to Investigative Reporting

The UK, already notorious for its lax libel law that makes probing media work difficult, is likely to see even more hardship for investigative journalism thanks to a weird and troubling ruling from a UK appeals court in a key libel case involving the Times of London.
The appeals court overturned a lower-court ruling that the newspaper was covered for a story by the so-called "Reynolds privilege" - which allows reporting stories in the public interest so long as the publisher has acted responsibly.

The appeals court said that privilege does not extend to the Times' article reporting that a London police detective-sergeant was under police investigation for accepting bribes from the Russian Mafia. The suit was brought by the police officer.

In the ruling, Lord Justice Neuberger, the UK's second-most senior judge, said: "It seems to me that it would be tipping the scales too far in favour of the media to hold that not only the name of the claimant, but the details of the allegations against him, can normally be published as part of a story free of any right in the claimant to sue for defamation just because the general subject matter of the story is in the public interest."

The Guardian, reporting on the ruling, quoted a media lawyer who said: "This is a decision which is so obviously wrong that it needs to be reviewed." The Times is appealing the decision to the UK's supreme court.

The UK Human Rights Blog also has an interesting post on the ruling here.

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