Ian Murray, former editor of The Press Gazette made a speedy exit following his intemperate remarks about the impossibility of racism in the British Press generally and tabloids specifically.
Rushing to the media’s defence Associated Press is reported by the Press Gazette (Note 1) as stating:
‘In a letter sent to CBS on Friday, Associated Newspapers’ group editorial legal director, Elizabeth Hartley, said: “As a responsible broadcaster with integrity we believe… that you will deprecate, as we do, the deliberate distortion and doctoring of newspaper headlines in the misleading montage of British newspapers broadcast in ‘Oprah with Meghan and Harry’.
“Many of the headlines have been either taken out of context or deliberately edited and displayed as supporting evidence for the programme’s claim that the Duchess of Sussex was subjected to racist coverage by the British press. “
AN considers its killer defence to be:
‘it found that headlines used by producers to allege racial bias by UK newspapers were actually reports exposing racial slurs made by others.’
However, the media industry’s own guidelines (Note 2) are otherwise:
‘Repeating defamatory matter
The general rule in English law is that it is no defence in an action for defamation for a defendant to prove that he was only repeating the words of another. Accordingly, if producers wish to repeat potentially defamatory allegations, they must always seek legal advice.
AN claims: ‘In the legal letter, Associated Newspapers included four examples to demonstrate wrongdoing. Hartley said the “most egregious” example was the use of the headline: ‘Meghan’s seed will taint our Royal Family’.
“The original, unedited, headline in fact was a report of the suspension from UKIP of someone over this and other racist texts about Meghan,”
Clearly, the repetition of the slur by the reputed press would give the slur much wider coverage than the original tweet. When a BBC presenter produced a picture of a mixed race couple nursing a baboon there was immediate outrage. The original anti-racist satirical photo was being repurposed. However, publicly condemning the incident and reshowing the offending photo also increased its visibility.
UK Courts have recently reaffirmed the law (Note 3):
Queens Bench Division
Brown v Bower and Another
Before Mr Justice Nicklin EWHC 2637 (QB)
Judgment: October 31, 2017
The effect of the “repetition rule” applicable in defamation proceedings was that, where the defendant reported that a third party had made an accusation against the claimant, the defendant was not necessarily to be understood as accepting the truth of the accusation, but rather he had to take responsibility for the repercussions of further dissemination of the accusation.”
Published in The Times : January 4, 2018
What we have here is an attempt by the UK Press to allow itself to increase circulation and promote racial hostility by repeating serious racial slurs but protect itself by claiming to be condemning the same. This is a tactic the media are well versed in.
An amusing example would be that of the French Journal ‘Canard Enchaine’, which reported that the President of France spent the evening with his mistress and showed photos of her residence. France has ferocious privacy laws which ‘Canard Enchaine’ circumvented by claiming that they were exposing unnecessary expenditure as security personnel had to engulf the residence just because his mistress did not wish to be seen entering and exiting the Elysee Palace.
While we may laugh at the French example (no doubt the President and his mistress felt differently!), the photo of a couple with a baboon ‘child’ is far more serious and deeply offensive.
AN’s defence is worthless.