Archive for the ‘UK Libel Law’ Category

Posted by Tim Ireland at 28 October 2009

Category: Old Media, The Political Weblog Movement, Tories! Tories! Tories!, UK Libel Law

“I didn’t libel Tom Watson. if I had done, he would have sued me.” – Iain Dale (source)

Today, in the High Court, The Sun issued an apology to Tom Watson (more) and agreed to pay a “substantial sum in damages” (plus costs) for the “acute distress, humiliation and embarrassment” caused.

Take a look at what The Sun have apologised for specifically:

The Claimant was not copied in on, nor did he know about any of the emails between McBride and Draper until Friday 10 April, when the matter was first drawn by the media to the attention of Downing Street. He did not have any involvement in or knowledge of the “Red Rag” website. Accordingly, the Claimant did not lie when he publicly denied involvement by way of press releases issued first by him on 12 April and then on 14 April by Carter-Ruck solicitors on his behalf. (source)

The origin of the false claim that Tom Watson was CCed on the Draper/McBride emails is officially unknown; the person who first aired it via a mainstream channel was the Conservative blogger Iain Dale.

Iain Dale included the ‘CC’ claim in an article published by the Mail on Sunday on Sunday 12 April 2009. Iain’s story has changed a few times, but let’s take this recent version as gospel, just for laughs:

In the original text submitted to the Mail on Sunday I alleged that Tom had been copied in on the Damian McBride emails. I did so because I was told that by a senior Labour source that this was the case. I also published it on my blog in THIS post at 5.45 on the evening of 11 April. At 6.20pm I received a call from Guido Fawkes who told me that Tom Watson had not in fact been cc’d on the emails he had seen, although he was referred to. I immediately reworded the blogpost and wrote a replacement paragraph for the Mail on Sunday column, which was sent to them at 6.30pm. In retrospect, instead of amending the blogpost I should have written an Update at the bottom. However, I needed to get the Mail on Sunday piece corrected. Unfortunately, despite me sending it in what I assumed to be good time, the change wasn’t made so the wrong paragraph was printed. This was cockup, not conspiracy.” – Iain Dale (source)

If we’re to believe Iain, then the urgent need to send a single email on early Saturday evening led to his failure to issue a correction on the original post for the rest of the night and all of the following Sunday and Monday (no correction was posted there until 11.30am on Tuesday 14 April, even though Iain managed to post a small ‘clarification’ elsewhere at 4.15pm on Monday 13 April) but the fact is that Iain had plenty of opportunities to issue a correction and chose not to.

In fact, at the time, he was knowingly deleting comments (mostly from me) asking him to post a correction, but I’ll get back to that and more right after we look at the libel left standing:

1. The libel that remained (and is still present on his website)

Initially, Iain removed from the offending post the text that read; “Tom Watson, who sat next to McBride in the Downing Street bunker and was copied on on all the emails to Derek Draper” but left in place the following:

“Tom Watson is Minister for the Civil Service. What did he do when he received these emails? Did he berate Damian McBride and tell him to stop abusing his position? No. Instead, he either tacitly or overtly encouraged McBride to send more.”

There was (and is) NO proof that Tom Watson received these emails at all, so it is false to assert that he was in a position to object and conclude that he “tacitly or overtly encouraged McBride to send more”. The evidence simply doesn’t support the premise. This passage was/is libel. End of.

This text was NOT removed from the body of the post until days later, and (in a classic indication of how careless Dale is with comments) remains live on his website even today:

screen capture of comment

One of Iain Dale’s favourite tricks is to deny that something is libel on the basis that it is an honestly-held opinion (e.g. in his mind, this applies when he publishes claims that I am “clearly psychotic”). Here, he has taken it that one step further and based a (false) assertion of fact on that opinion, and he still doesn’t recognise that it’s libel. Extraordinary.

Further, this text (especially minus any correction) clearly gave the impression that the ‘CC’ claim stood, when instead it was based on nothing more than Iain Dale’s certainty that Tom Watson must have known what was happening at a nearby desk on a colleague’s computer, and here we come to the lie of omission:

2. The false ‘CC’ claim, and the lie of omission that followed

According to Iain’s own account, the ‘CC’ claim was also live on his website for a short period on Saturday 11 April 2009 before Iain removed it…. but remove it is all he did. At the time he published no correction about his false ‘CC’ claim and (crucially) continued to publish comments (his own and others’) that asserted Tom Watson’s involvement as a matter of fact, not opinion.

Here you need to take into account the size and nature of the audience Iain was playing to at the time. Let’s take the single day of Sunday 12 April; Iain’s audience has jumped from average of 5,000 to 8,000 visitors on a Sunday to somewhere near 18,000 that particular Sunday (source). The following diagram – which is to scale – compares his enlarged circulation for that day to the approximate daily circulation of the Mail on Sunday on the same day (source), and The Sun on the next (source).

comparison of circulation figures

Exactly how these audiences overlap and where Iain’s extra ~10K visitors came from on that day remains uncertain, but it’s fair to assume that a good portion of them are likely to have arrived after being exposed to the false ‘CC’ claim, and it’s fair to say that only a handful of them left corrected on that point for all of Sunday the 12th and most of Monday the 13th; indeed, according to Iain’s own account, if you wanted to learn the truth before Tuesday, you needed to be (a) a journalist, (b) who asked about the ‘CC’ claim specifically

(Psst! This same diagram may also provide clues about Tom Watson’s decision to sue over what was published in The Mail on Sunday and The Sun but not on Iain Dale’s Diary, regardless of how influential Dale himself may have been in sharing/publishing the central falsehood.)

3. Deliberately careless comment moderation

Iain Dale did all of this with Blogger.com-hosted comment moderation turned OFF; this meant that comments would be published immediately, without being checked by Iain first.

If someone went too far in what they claimed about Tom Watson (or anyone else), then Iain Dale would allow them to run free for however long he was away from his screen, before erasing (some) comments without so much as an ‘oops’ for the record. This is not something he allows on his site when there are serious accusations levelled against him or his friends, but for some reason he thinks it’s fair to subject political enemies to this risk when it suits him.

There were repeated instances of people taking advantage of the shoddy moderation over the long weekend, using the platform to launch attacks on Tom Watson, and even to imply that I was somehow involved with Draper/McBride. Iain Dale was repeatedly (and quite dishonestly) using ‘sloppy’ moderation to his advantage in this way while efficiently deleting all of my submitted responses, and refusing to acknowledge my emails or answer my calls.

(Further, this was happening at a time when someone was actively publishing false claims about me being a convicted paedophile, a valid concern that Iain charmingly describes as a “preoccupation” of mine.)

Iain Dale knows that – in blogging especially – deleting data after the fact is not the same as not allowing it to be published in the first place, especially when you have a choice to engage moderation controls and decide against it (for selfish if not downright malicious reasons). While the deleted comments may (eventually) be removed from Iain’s website, they will have been read and retained by anyone subscribing to the relevant thread, and automatically syndicated on external websites beyond Iain’s control within minutes of their publication. (I am sure that Iain knows all of these things and more because he is soon to appear as an expert witness, speaking on the subject of responsible comment moderation.)

But when the mob was at its height and calling for blood, Iain Dale not only maintained a major lie of omission but did so while playing it fast and loose in comments; he refused to address or correct false accusations levelled at Tom Watson (and myself) in his posts and under comments, he deleted comments calling for a correction of his earlier post, and he refused to engage comment moderation… until the moment he stood accused of libel and instead accused me of harassment. Then Iain engaged comment moderation (and re-introduced anonymous comments) before publishing dozens of comments alleging my involvement in criminal activity and making false statements about my mental health.

I cannot link to the relevant post, because Iain has since deleted it. But as with the CC claim, in the minds of many of his readers, the accusation stands and will continue to stand until he issues a correction.

Conclusion

Iain Dale not only libelled Tom Watson, he knowingly misled his readers about it.

Iain also libelled me in the process, and he refuses to issue a correction of the since-deleted post/ comments, even though he knows that his accusations are being used against me.

These are just two examples of Iain Dale knowingly using lies against his political enemies… and according to Iain’s own standards, what I say must be true if Iain doesn’t sue me, right?

“I didn’t libel Tom Watson. if I had done, he would have sued me.” – Iain Dale (source)

UPDATE – See also:
David Cameron: also putting political agenda ahead of principle








Posted by Tim Ireland at 23 May 2009

Category: The Political Weblog Movement, Tories! Tories! Tories!, UK Libel Law

Nadine Dorries, as it was once put so delicately by Dawn Primarolo:, has recently asserted many things to be facts that are not.

While stating as facts things that are not facts, Nadine Dorries has also – by the account of many credible bloggers and their contributors – refused to allow her claims to be substantially challenged under comments (which she has only just reinstated after this disaster where she also asserted many things to be facts that were not, and responded with the censorship, manipulation and sudden withdrawal of comments).

This is not how a typical blogger behaves, the timing/nature of the dialogue leading up to the removal of her weblog is a major factor in the rights and wrongs of this, and so far we have very little reason to trust the word of Nadine Dorries or almost anyone else in her camp at this stage.

Further, I suspect that Phil Hendren* and Iain Dale might be declaring this to be somehow equal to the Usmanov/Shillings/Fasthosts event a little prematurely, and I for one would like to hear more about the specifics of it from more than one source before I rush to judgement.

Until then, as far as I’m concerned, Nadine Dorries can go stay in London at her own expense.

[Psst! I would also appreciate hearing Iain Dale’s position on his use of legal threats to avoid mere dialogue, let alone any challenge in response to his asserting many things to be facts that are not.]

PS – Yes, I’m aware of the absurd aspect of UK libel law that allows this to happen, just as I’m aware of suicide statistics that might appear to support some of Nadine’s recent assertions. Nadine Dorries and her supporters will take anything they can get at this stage to divert attention away from what she has said about helping herself to a pot of money that she (and, she claims, all MPs) regarded to be theirs by right, regardless of any rules.

UPDATE (24 May) – *’Dizzy’ is upset, so allow me to point out here that (a) it was Iain waving the ‘Usmanov’ name about, and not him, and (b) they most certainly did not collude to deceive; such a thing would be as unthinkable as it is unprecedented. More details are here, but I think these two allies of Dorries could be clearer about what has happened here… and about what has not. It is not fair or accurate, for example, to say something like this:

“The Telegraph deleted Nadine Dorries blog?!” (source)

More to follow. Sunshine first.








Posted by Tim Ireland at 7 May 2009

Category: Search Engine Optimisation, The Political Weblog Movement, UK Libel Law

I recently made an information request (details later) and one of the things I asked for was details of searches made using my name and/or the name of my website.

I asked for this data and (depending on what they find) I have a right to this data because of a nifty new smear effect/tactic that you may not be aware of called ‘keyword broadcasting’.

With keyword broadcasting you don’t really need to publish/host anything on a website to effect a smear; instead, you merely have to hammer away at Google by [method specifics censored*], associate one or two ugly words with the name of your target, and Bob’s your uncle with something to hide.

Let me show you what I mean:

Recently, Paul Staines (aka ‘Guido Fawkes’) cleverly pointed out the related searches that appear when you search for ‘gordon brown’. Well, actually, he had to stretch to the more contrived option ‘gordon brown is’, but check out his post and you’ll get the idea:

If you extend the search to ‘gordon brown’ and type an ‘r’, you’ll see that just below the upper threshold is the ugly ‘rocking horse’ smear that Paul Staines regularly airs on his website:

Do a search for ‘paul staines’ and what you’ll see is the following (naturally occurring) pattern:

Do a search for my name today and you’ll find a recent addition to the related searches:

See that ‘bloggerhead’ (i.e. not ‘bloggerheads‘) there? That is brand spanking new, and a side effect of multiple searches used by Glen Jenvey and/or his associates in order to find past/current locations of this smear.

This is a slightly more harmless side effect of the general administration of these smears, but it shows how easily the full effect could be achieved if one were to know what they were doing.

The demand threshold is lower for less famous/established names/figures, so MPs, councillors and candidates will want to be especially wary of this tactic.

(*I’d go into detail on this and other certain specifics required to make this work, but we all know that this would be a bad idea.)








Posted by Tim Ireland at 9 December 2008

Category: Rupert 'The Evil One' Murdoch, UK Libel Law

Psst! I’m over here this morning.

Oh, and here’s a little something for Alex Hilton, who claims to have missed the whole Usmanov thing; a video I made at the time, but neglected to release…

UK Libel Law (explained in post-it notes)

There’s a newer and far funkier animation on the way (on the subject of sock-puppetry).

Oh, and if I can figure a way to write about it without some idiot throwing his idiot laywer at me, there will one day soon be an opaque post (containing tedious detail) that reflects on the issues of unmoderated user-generated content and profitability, and where these two issues might intersect in the most mysterious ways.








Posted by Tim Ireland at 5 December 2008

Category: Christ..., Old Media, The War on Stupid, UK Libel Law, Updates

I don’t think the good people at the Mirror really thought this one through:

Please see Septicisle for some thoughtful words on this topic.

– Also worth reading is Jean-Charles de Menezes summed up (via)

– While I remain deeply unimpressed with Alex Hilton, I will happily publicise this predicament and (*gasp*) maybe even pay attention to what is going on.

Encouraging news on the Nigerian witch hunt front.

You’ll want to read this article on torture, even though it contains few surprises.








Posted by Tim Ireland at 3 December 2008

Category: UK Libel Law

David Semple – Bloggers against libel: help Alex Hilton

No.

David T – Defend Alex “Recess Monkey” Hilton

No.

Iain Dale – “Some people may think I have lost my marbles when they read this post…”

No!

Alex Hilton – HELP! Please read

(reads)

Erm… no.

More details below the fold for those who need them:

[ —————— FOLD —————— ]

(more…)








1. Justin McKeating – Say ‘no’ to 42 days.: The House of Lords debates 42 days today and is expected to vote against it, but with the Prime Minister still insisting that he will push through the 42-day proposals, [Amnesty International] will keep on campaigning until it’s defeated once and for all.

Sign the petition. Pass it on.

2. AlertNet – 12 New Stomach-Turning Revelations About Sarah Palin: Palin has taken to smearing Obama. But it’s her own record that continues to yield alarming information, undermining her skills and credibility.

3. Web user makes his views known on the fine body work done by Import Image / iDesign in Walnut, CA. (Ta to Lawrence for the link.)

4. Telegraph – Alisher Usmanov to drop interest in Arsenal takeover: Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov has been advised not to go ahead with a takeover of the club and is reportedly ready to sell his shares.

(Psst! We were chatting at the table the other night when Usmanov’s name came up. The youngest griglet asked who he was, and a certain 10-year-old was heard to reply; “He’s Dad’s Russian arch-nemesis.” I was impressed by the correct and necessary use of a modifier more than anything.)

5. Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – Ten things we found out at the Tory Party Conference: …it became obvious that Nadine [Dorries] didn’t really like blogging (apart from the way that it got her comments straight to the diarists of newspapers), and didn’t really do it anyway – she emails the “blogs” that are part of her “online diary” to a guy who does her website…








Posted by Tim Ireland at 17 September 2008

Category: UK Libel Law

As off-putting as this not-very-appealing appeal was, the claim that someone had again silenced bloggers with the mere threat of legal action did get my attention, so I’d like to share the following with you:

August 8th onwards:

Evening Times – Councillor Kalashnikov: This is Glasgow councillor Jahangir Hanif caught on camera firing a deadly Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle at a military-style camp in Pakistan. The 46-year-old SNP councillor, who was last month reported to be a slum landlord, took five of his six children – including his five-year-old daughter – to learn how to fire the weapon in mountains in the Kashmir border.

Another tabloid more familiar to those of us south of the border also ran with the story the next day, as did The Times and the BBC.

Jahangir Hanif’s reported actions appear to have been within the law, but the SNP are big on gun control, and the death of two-year-old Andrew Morton is a major factor in the gun debate.

Even as a bystander it’s easy for me to see why Hanif should have been history the moment it emerged that he’d put an assault rifle in the hands of children, even if [rolls eyes] he had done so before becoming a councillor… but it’s also obvious that the SNP is not a party with a lot of ground to give. So on we go to the land of few surprises; Hanif gets a slap on the wrist, resulting in outrage (both feigned and genuine, depending on where you get your news from)…

August 31st onwards:

Sunday Herald – SNP refuse to kick out ‘Kalashnikov councillor’
Times – Anger as the SNP fails to sack assault rifle councillor
Evening Times – SNP accused of disgracing Glasgow over Councillor Kalashnikov
Scottish Unionist – Councillor Kalashnikov gets off lightly

It is sometime soon after this that a letter by Noor Hanif, the 17-year-old daughter of Jahangir Hanif, was sent to Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland… and (somehow) also released to the press/public:

Telegraph – Daughter calls for Alex Salmond to sack Kalashnikov-firing SNP councillor: The Scottish Nationalists decided this week not to expel Jahangir Hanif for showing his children how to use the gun during the trip into the mountains near the Kashmir border in 2005. But his outraged daughter, Noor, has pleaded with Mr Salmond, the SNP leader and Scottish First Minister, to throw her father out of the party. In a letter to Mr Salmond, the 17-year-old wrote: ‘I cannot believe he has been let off. My siblings and I were put in an environment where people were pointing loaded AK47 guns at each other. I think he should be fired to make an example, so that other people think twice before playing with guns and putting children in harm’s way. I don’t think you have taken this matter seriously enough. How can a man who can’t look after his children be allowed to represent the public?”

Evening Times – MSPs in fresh call to kick out gun councillor: Meanwhile, the row took a fresh twist today after councillor Hanif’s 17-year-old daughter Noor reportedly wrote to Alex Salmond calling on him to be thrown out of the party. She is claimed to have said: “I don’t think that you have taken this matter seriously enough I cannot believe he has been let off. My siblings and I were put in an environment where people were pointing loaded AK-47 guns at each other. He should be expelled he should be fired to make an example, so other people think twice about playing with guns and putting children in harm’s way.”

Daily Record – Daughter of SNP gun councillor tells Alex Salmond: Please fire my dad: Noor wrote: “If we had known he was taking us to somewhere like that, we’d never have gone. But my dad is a dominating man and we lived by his rule of law.” Noor was only 14 when she was taken on the trip in 2005. She said: “I still have nightmares about that day. The people were scary with their faces covered like in the movies. The gunshots were deafening – it really hurts your ears – and you never forget that sound. People were pointing the guns in each other’s directions. Anything could have happened. I was very nervous.”

The Daily Record goes on to use further extracts from the letter, but stops short of printing other allegations that are, quite frankly, tangential to the central issue here *and* a matter primarily for the authorities until the moment Noor Hanif turns 18.

If at that stage she still wishes to publish these allegations herself and is unfairly silenced, she will enjoy my complete support. I’ll even help her to build the website.

Until then, all I’m inclined to offer is this:

Jahangir Hanif is a total hypocrite for moaning about what his kids have may or may not have been dragged into, the more recent counter-claims of racism (1, 2, 3, 4) stink of the worst kind of political desperation, and Alex Salmond won’t be able to claim that he has yet to see, read or receive Noor’s letter for much longer without looking like an absolute dick.

I am not saying that it is right that a blogger can be conveniently silenced without any actual legal action. At all.

But subsequent warnings issued to newspapers suggest heavily that Jahangir Hanif’s threats are by no means idle, empty or even drunken… and in Usmanov’s case, his lawyers completely bypassed any need to go to court by avoiding authors and instead bullying their UK-based ISPs. Bloggers who then went on to defy Schillings by hosting their response(s) on US-hosted Blogger.com weblogs received nothing more than nuisance-level complaints to that provider. Two of the blogs that have published the Noor letter and removed it are Blogger.com-based and it would appear that they were at least contacted and challenged directly about their content.

This is, arguably, still a case of a man with money being able to silence someone without the means to defend themselves (see: Curly) but the wider matter is clearly far more complicated than that, obviously party-political in nature, and a lonnnng way from being such a clear case of abuse of UK libel law that the author(s) should expect an immediate avalanche of support.

But – as you can see – I have gone to the trouble of actually explaining the background so other bloggers might better be able to decide for themselves, and that’s a step up from badgering them about not taking immediate action over a complicated game of political football nobody bothered to even notify them about in the first place.

Related:

Press and Journal – SNP councillor threatens action over internet blog: A north-east woman has been forced to remove the full text of a letter written by the daughter of a suspended SNP councillor – who was filmed firing an AK47 assault rifle – from her internet blog after being threatened with legal action… In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Hanif said: “Editors are to be advised that a Labour Party blog containing defamatory statements concerning me has been withdrawn and an undertaking granted that it will not be re-posted following the initiation of interdict proceedings. Notice is given that in the event that newspapers or broadcasters publish extracts from the blog that legal proceedings will follow.”








Posted by Tim Ireland at 27 August 2008

Category: UK Libel Law

Like Justin, I’m no fan of Harry’s Place, but bloggers should and must stand together whenever anyone tries the stunt of bypassing the author of any blog and instead censoring their content via bullshit legal threats to a service provider…

Mr Eugenedies – Harry’s Place taken down

… and I think this applies even if the offending content wasn’t a typo, but instead a deliberate misrepresentation.

Your first step – always – is to confront and challenge the author directly. Even if they’re people like Iain Dale, Paul Staines and their little hanger-on Phil Hendren (i.e. determined to avoid or complicate that challenge) you should at least try.

PS – Mr E mentions the cuddly Mr Alisher Usmanov in his post. It might amuse you to recall all of the time and effort Usmanov put into being referred to as a ‘Russian billionaire’ instead of an ‘Uzbek billionaire’ in order to make his money more palatable to Westerners.








1. Supporting Dave Walker:

Unity – J Mark Brewer revisited (updated): It seems that while Brewer’s up for bullying Christian cartoonists and members of the clergy, when it comes to taking on a big bad atheist blogger with a penchant for digging into the detail, like yours truly, he seems to be altogether lacking in intestinal fortitude.

Well, there’s a shock.

If you’d like to learn more and maybe blog something yourself, start here.

2. ‘Sun Watch’ Project:

Catching up with more of our editors today and tomorrow. In the meantime, here are two Sun-related items for you:

Mark Pack – A case of media bias? The Sun, MySpace and Facebook: So, that would be 14 positive stories about MySpace compared to 1 negative. A bit different from the 2 positive against 13 negative stories about Facebook…

Septicisle – Weekend links: The Scum, despite the complete lack of evidence is continuing to keep up the pretence that Barry George is guilty of the Jill Dando murder…

3. New Google gadgetry:

Google has started offering their site-specific search feature under the main search result for some newspapers. Nifty.

4. Long waits:

Still no word regarding my membership application for the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics. Can’t imagine what’s keeping them.

5. Fascinating and a bit scary:

Britain from Above looks awesome. Guess where I’ll be Sunday 10 August at 9pm. (No, don’t check the spy satellite… I said guess where I’ll be Sunday 10 August at 9pm.)

6. Optical illusions:

Best car park signage ever. (via)








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