Reputation Protection Update – January 2013
Debate at Durham University
On Friday 23 November 2012, Gideon Benaim took part in a debate at Durham University Student Union. The motion proposed to the House was: “The press has too much power and not enough responsibility”. Speaking with Gideon Benaim for the motion was Professor Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University, London, and founder of the Hacked Off campaign. Opposed to the motion was Chris Blackhurst, editor of The Independent, and the editor of Palatinate, Durham University’s student newspaper, Charlie Taverner.
Benaim started his speech by stressing that “I am entirely in favour of the principles of free speech and a free press, although what I mean by “free” may not fit squarely with what some of the wikileaks types among us advocate” and applauded the sections of the British press that do act responsibly. He recognised that the power of the press is often wielded “for the public good”. The essence of his argument focused on presenting recent examples of those in the press whose actions do not deserve such plaudits. Referring to the experiences of Sienna Miller, he turned the spotlight inwards and asked the audience to “…imagine for a moment what it would be like to be a young woman say 21 years of age, not much older than many of you here in this room, alone, in the early hours of the morning running down a dark street being closely chased by a group of 10-15 scruffy looking men; men who ignore all appeals to stop…Many of them verbally abuse you. One of them spits at you.” The examples used by Benaim served to demonstrate that “…people, whether they’re in the public eye or not, need to be able to live without unwarranted intrusion into their private lives, in the absence of a legitimate public interest argument. It wasn’t justified in her case, and it isn’t justified just because someone is famous. This isn’t about so-called whining and whinging celebrities, this is about what’s right and what isn’t. The paparazzi wouldn’t behave in this manner if the press wouldn’t buy their photographs”.
Considering the important balancing act between the rights of reputation and those of free speech, Benaim commented that “It isn’t in the public interest for every piece of information about every subject matter to be freely available… Do footballers really need to be portrayed by the media as role-models, or is the media doing it for their own purposes so that the media can target them when their private lives don’t live up to the often hypocritical standards set by an editor?… Did we really need to see a picture of Harry’s bottom, even if the concerns about his security had created a legitimate public interest argument in favour of reporting the story itself, as opposed to publishing the photographs?”
Concluding his argument, Benaim stated that “The press should yield its power responsibly, but has repeatedly failed to do so. That’s why robust laws to protect us are needed. That’s why an independent regulator with teeth is needed”.
The debate was certainly hard fought, but thanks to overwhelming support from the audience, Gideon Benaim and Professor Cathcart helped the house to pass the motion.
Leveson and the British press
Following the publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, on 11 December 2012, Gideon Benaim took part in a panel discussion and public debate at the Law Society concerning the culture, practices and ethics of the British press.
Law Society Chief Executive, Des Hudson, chaired the discussion and the panel consisted of other media law experts including, Hugh Tomlinson QC (Matrix Chambers), Martin Bentham (Home Affairs Editor, London Evening Standard), and Brian Flynn (Investigations Editor, The Sun). The debate was held in association with The Huffington Post.
For further information about the Law Society debate, please see http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/leveson-dissected-at-the-law-society/ and http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/journalists-and-lawyers-to-debate-press-freedom-as-law-looms-over-media/
Gideon Benaim was asked to comment on the defamation action instigated by Olam International Ltd against the short seller, Carson Bloc and his research firm Muddy Waters, in an article by Andrea Tan of Bloomberg News entitled “Olam’s Lighting Lawsuit Helps in Bid to Win Investors”.
The full article can be read at http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-12-02/olam-s-lightning-lawsuit-helps-in-bid-to-win-investors
In an article for The Lawyer before the Leveson Report was published, Gideon Benaim argues that “Lord Justice Leveson should recommend a regulator that has teeth under a system that preserves freedom of expression”. In addition to a regulator with statutory underpinning, Benaim also urges Leveson to consider the issue of advance notification and online abuse.
To see the full article, please see http://www.thelawyer.com/independence-day/1015748.article
In a follow up article on the day the Leveson Report was published Gideon Benaim gave his initial views. The article can be found at http://www.thelawyer.com/leveson-moots-arbitration-service-for-resolving-claims-against-the-press/1015803.article
For more information on the Reputation Protection practice at Michael Simkins LLP please contact Michael Simkins LLP on +44 (0)20 7874 5600.