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section heading icon     tabloids

This page highlights selected incidents of apologies and costs/damages payments by newspapers and by broadcasters.

It illustrates the vicissitudes of publishers (some claims may indeed have been true but unprovable in court) and risk-taking or mere disregard for the reputation of celebrities.

It covers -

subsection heading icon     introduction

A truism in media studies is that tabloid newspapers, 'celebrity magazine' publishers and commercial broadcasters regard substantial defamation payouts as an acceptable cost of doing business.

Perceptions that those publishers are not 'defamation wary' - or will fight defamation claims on principle (and because they can afford to) - are reflected in claims that they will knowingly publish problematical statements and generally settle rather than defend. Some have commented that broadcasters and newspapers will defend, even though their legal position is weak, simply to preserve their own reputations.

The accuracy of such perceptions varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and over time. In the UK for example Sweet & Maxwell has identified changes in newspaper, magazine and broadcaster responses to risks. It claims that in 2005 UK newspapers fought 56% of reported defamation claims, up from 39% in 2000 and attributed by some to the the "qualified privilege" defence established in the 1999 Reynolds v Times decision.

In contrast, Sweet & Maxwell indicated that the number of reported cases against UK magazines fell from 10 in 2000 to three in 2005 and that those involving broadcasters declined to four in 2005 from 10 in 2000.

subsection heading icon     drip feed

Media theorists have suggested that public figures need to have a reputation to lose, a reputation that may be eroded through a succession of reports that on an item by item basis are not defamatory but tarnish a person's "good name".

That erosion means that the individual may be in a weak position in responding to an egregious claim.

Some observers have thus decried what they perceive as a 'drip feed' approach to besmirch the reputation of figures who have offended an editor or proprietor, particularly by winning a substantial defamation payment against the publisher or broadcaster.

Others have dismissed such perceptions as conspiracist. They instead argue that tabloids are pack animals and operate on a reactive basis, attacking the same targets as their peers and seeking to outdo those peers with additional 'dirt' or more outlandish claims (sometimes so outlandish that the publisher appears in court).

subsection heading icon     2007

+ 16 senior barristers (including a former Supreme Court judge) and business figures win $480,000 and an apology from Sydney Daily Telegraph in settlement after newspaper publishes 'Pervert and his 59 mates' article and reader blog posts regarding disgraced public prosecutor Patrick Power

+ A £750,000 damages claim by Patricia Tierney against the UK Sun (over claims that she had been intimate with footballer Wayne Rooney while working as a prostitute) was dismissed in 2007. Tierney had denied the paper's 2004 claim that she had been a sex worker at a Liverpool brothel visited by Rooney, asserting that she had only worked as a receptionist.

While the case was being heard it was revealed that in a 2002 statement to police she had admitted working as a prostitute. Her legal counsel withdrew and the judge dismissed the case.

+ US actrss Cameron Diaz gains "substantial" libel damages in UK from American Media Incorporated, publisher of the National Enquirer, over claim on its website that had a "smooching session" with a married man. In reaching the settlement AMI accepted that its photos did not show Diaz kissing or in a passionate clinch, that the relevant incident involved no more than her giving a friend a goodbye hug, and that any suggestion of a romantic involvement was entirely untrue and without substance.

+ former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib loses appeal against jury's rejection of his defamation claim involving Sydney Daily Telegraph over August 2005 article that allegedly implied he was a welfare cheat.

subsection heading icon     2006

+ Edinburgh court awards former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan £200,000 damages over News of the World claims that he cheated on his wife, visited swingers' clubs and partipated in orgies. Sheridan proclaimed that far from being compulsively priapic, his weaknesses were more in the vein of an intense fondness for playing scrabble.

The News foreshadowed an appeal, suspended pending an official inquiry. Sheridan was charged with perjury in December 2007, commenting

I believe this whole farcical inquiry, which has usurped an incredible amount of public resources, has been orchestrated and influenced by the powerful reach of the Murdoch empire.

+ The Sun apologises and pays compensation to former manager of band Take That for printing allegations that he "either stole the profits from a European tour or incompetently failed to make any, and lied to the band when asked about it" -

In fact, there is absolutely no truth in these allegations. The European tour did make money, the band were paid and the accounts were scrutinised by accountants and found to be unimpeachable.

+ UK Sunday Sport agrees to pay "substantial sum" in compensation and legal costs and apologised publicly to former Big Brother contestant Lesley Sanderson after falsely reporting that she had been involved in a "three-in-a-bed sex romp" with two brothers.

+ London Evening Standard agrees to pay £75,000 damages and legal costs to Gordon Ramsay over claims he engaged in "gastronomic mendacity" in his Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares television series.

+ Sadie Frost, ex-wife of Jude Law, accepts costs and substantial compensation over claim in the Mail on Sunday that she attacked a young model in a toilet during the Project Catwalk fashion event in August 2005 and that her behaviour warranted professional treatment for anger management.

+ US National Enquirer pays costs and damages to actress Kate Hudson after action in High Court in London over claim ("Goldie tells Kate: Eat something! And she listens!") that she deliberately starved herself and was "dangerously" thin.

+ UK hypnotist and self-help entrepreneur Paul McKenna sues the Daily Mirror over claim that he bought a "bogus degree", arguing that he was "pilloried as a fraud". He complained that former Mirror journalist Victor Lewis-Smith questioned the worth of McKenna's doctorate from Lasalle University, Louisiana.

The Mirror's headline read "It's a load of doc and bull", with Lewis-Smith commenting

I discovered that anyone could be fully doctored by Lasalle within months (no previous qualifications needed), just so long as they could answer the following question correctly: 'Do you have 2,615 dollars, Sir?'

Mr Justice Eady ruled against the paper, saying he did not believe the hypnotist was dishonest and that his work was not bogus.

Mr McKenna was not, in my judgment, dishonest and, for that matter, whatever one may think of the academic quality of his work, or of the degree granted by La Salle, it would not be accurate to describe it as 'bogus'.

The judge continued

Much energy has been expended to very little purpose. No doubt there would have been various windows of opportunity for sensible compromise and setting the record straight. Yet the parties seem to have been determined to fight to a standstill ... Costs are no doubt massive on both sides [yet] what all this has achieved is open to question.

+ UK The Independent ordered to pay a judge Jack Bayliss legal costs and undisclosed damages and to apologise over claim that he had presided over a "kangaroo court" in handling the court martial of RAF Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith (sentenced to eight months in jail for refusing to serve in Iraq).

+ Elton John receives £100,000 in libel damages plus costs from the Daily Mail over claims that he banned guests from talking to him at a charity fundraising event

+ London Evening Standard apologises and pays undisclosed damages to Norman Lamont over claim that he tried to insult John Major's son by giving him a copy of Lamont's 1999 memoirs as a wedding present - a "cheap and vindictive act"

+ London Daily Mail issues a formal apology and agrees to pay "substantial" damages to Sharon Stone over allegations that she left her son in a car while she had a late-night dinner

+ UK News of the World and the Sun pay legal costs and over £100,000 damages to footballer Ashley Cole for falsely suggesting that he was involved in a "gay orgy"

+ London Sun and the News of the World offer potential apologies and damages to Choice FM presenter who took legal action over claims that a "well known DJ" had "gay sex" with a UK Premiership footballer

+ UK jockey Kieren Fallon accepts undisclosed damages from News of the World over 2004 claim of unprovoked attack on a fellow rider

+ London Sun and Heat magazine apologise and make "substantial" payments to Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher over "sex romps in her VW camper van" claims. Daily Sport apologise and pays substantial damages and costs to Hatcher in 2005 after publishing similar claims

+ Elton John receives damages from the Sunday Times over claims that he acted in a "self-important, arrogant and rude" manner at his charity ball

+ Wayne Rooney receives £100,000 in damages, plus costs, from libel action against the Sun and News of the World over allegations that he slapped his girlfriend

+ London Mail on Sunday issues formal apology and agrees to pay damages to tv figure Noel Edmonds over allegations that he seduced a woman away from her husband and used their relationship to promote his career

+ London Daily Telegraph agrees to pay controversial politician George Galloway £150,000 in damages over allegation he had received money from Saddam Hussein's regime

+ London Financial Times faces £4.5m bill (inc £300,000 damages) in settling suit brought by broker Collins Stewart over claims in 2003

subsection heading icon     2005

+ London Sun apologises and pays "substantial damages" to Belinda Brewin over accusation of helping two murderers to go on the run

+ Boston Herald ordered to pay US$2.1m for defaming Superior Court judge Ernest Murphy

+ BBC apologises and pays "substantial" damages to eight UK police officers accused of "unlawful killing" in programme about death of a mentally ill man

+ UK Mail on Sunday pays undisclosed damages to Brigadier Matthew Sykes over claim he was involved in alleged conspiracy to bring down Iraq war commander Colonel Tim Collins

+ UK Daily Express agrees to pay "substantial" damages to Elaine Decoulos over accusation of stalking a former friend

+ Robbie Williams gains legal costs and substantial damages from People newspaper, Stars and Hot Stars magazines

+ The Sun apologises and pays damages to Mohammed el Guerbozi, Moroccan-born UK citizen it falsely accused of being a "fanatical terrorist"

subsection heading icon     2004

+ UK actor Jimmy Nail faces legal costs of £200,000 after gaining £30,000 damages against News of the World

+ NZ$780,000 award to former police officers Bryan Rowe, Wayne Idour and Peter Woods in action against Independent Newspapers (Sunday Star-Times) and columnist Rosemary McLeod

+ News of the World apologises and pays damages to high-profile Spanish journalist Ana Garcia-Sineriz Alonso over publication of wrongly identified "raunchy photo"

+ London Sunday Telegraph apologises and pays "substantial" damages to web designer Adam Musa King over claims of suspected links to al-Qaida

+ former Chelsea football boss Ken Bates awarded £9,000 damages plus costs in action against London Evening Standard

+ Rowan Atkinson gains substantial damages from The Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail

+ Celtic football club manager Martin O'Neill gains "substantial" damages from Scottish tabloid The Daily Record over 2003 claims he planned to quit the club

+ London Daily Telegraph agrees to pay a five-figure sum to Barbara Cassani, head of London's Olympic bid, after it wrongly quoted her describing Tony Blair as "not that bright"

+ Mohamed Al Fayed's Harrods left with estimated legal bill of £500,000 after losing libel case against Wall Street Journal

subsection heading icon     2003

+ John Cleese gains £13,500 in damages from London Evening Standard after what judge characterises as "manifestly vitriolic" and "unaccountably personal attack"

subsection heading icon     1997

+ class of students from Mount Druitt High School (NSW) takes action against Sydney Daily Telegraph over front page article that incorrectly claims not a single student had passed the HSC. That action was settled, with damages estimated at about $1 million.

subsection heading icon     1988

+ Elton John receives £1 million settlement in action over allegations appearing in The Sun. High Court judge Sir Michael Davies (1973-91) criticises Sun's publication of details of settlement before it had been approved by court, commenting that the courts are a forum for trials and disputes, "not a supine adjunct to a publicity machine for pop stars and newspapers".

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version of December 2007
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics