London Mayor Boris Johnson 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While the rest of the world media, not to mention the Internet, is awash with rumours of the identities of two people at the center of British politics who
allegedly had an affair, the British media itself, even its famously fearless
tabloids, has hardly spoken of the matter.
So while Israeli radio
listeners hear speculation about London Mayor Boris Johnson and the prime
minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron, people in London are denied that pleasure.
Apart from the fact that these rumours almost certainly have no basis, it seems
odd that the British media seems to have been stricken dumb. What is muzzling
the British media? It is possible someone might have obtained a
super-injunction: a court order forbidding not just mention of the lovers’ names
but even mention of the order itself. But super-injunctions are very hard to
obtain and usually not available in cases like this where there is apparent real
public interest. Also, finding a creative way to get round a super-injunction is
a new sport at which British journalists excel.
A further reason for the
silence could be the new press regulation scheme which the UK parliament
approved in April 2013.
Following the revelation that journalists
employed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation had hacked celebrities’ mobile
telephones, bribed police and generally gone out of control, the British
government set up an inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson.
This resulted in
the decision to establish a new body to control press regulation.
regulatory regime will replace the toothless Press Complaints Commission (PCC)
which many view as being in the pocket of the very journalists it is supposed to
regulate. My firm recently successfully sued the PCC for failing to reprimand
newspaper which insisted that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, was the
capital of Israel. The tendency of the PCC to protect journalists, even when
they are clearly wrong, has convinced the public that a stronger regulator is
There is much concern as to whether it is consistent with
democracy to have parliament controlling the press. This concern is misplaced.
Parliament already makes laws which make bribing policemen, hacking phones and
defaming people illegal.
These are the true controls over the press. Of
much greater concern should be the bizarre decision to exempt the BBC from
control by the new regulator. Why the world’s most powerful media organization,
which is consistently shown to breach its own impartiality obligations, should
be above the law, remains a quintessentially British mystery.
new regulator is not yet in place, it is probably not the reason the British
media is so coy. Rather the likely reason is fear of defamation suits. Britain
has long been seen as “pro claimant” for defamation claims. In the US by
comparison, a public figure has close to no protection against defamation. The
Defamation Act, passed in April 2013, makes UK law slightly less claimant
friendly. But the burden of proof is still on the newspaper to show that what it
prints is true.
That is why British newspapers are very reluctant to
print anything which is not supported by good evidence and is probably the
reason why Boris Johnson and Samantha Cameron don’t appear entwined in the pages
of the British press.
Trevor Asserson is the founding partner of Asserson
Law Offices, Israel’s largest English law firm, based in Tel Aviv, and is widely
recognized as one of the UK’s leading litigation solicitors. Shimon Goldwater is
a lawyer with the firm.
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