Libel ruling a ‘blow to investigative journalism’

A libel ruling against the Times by
a UK court of appeal has been
called a blow to investigative journalism by media lawyers.

The Guardian reports:

“In a case brought by Gary Flood, a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police, who had sued the Times for libel over an article that accused him of “taking bribes”, the court of appeal judges said that the newspaper was not entitled to “Reynolds privilege”, which offers certain protections to investigative journalists.”

The Reynolds defence is also used in Canada, and what happens in UK law tends to trickle down to Canadian courtrooms. But it remains to me seen how this ruling will affect Canadian investigative journalism.

The Guardian continues:

“The court allowed the cross-appeal by Flood, who had sued Times Newspapers Limited, which publishes the Times, in June 2006.

“In that case, Mr Justice Tugendhat had ruled that the Times was entitled to rely on the defence of Reynolds qualified privilege in regard to the print article, but that it had lost that privilege on the article on its website after an investigation exonerated Flood.

“Reynolds privilege was established as a new defence for libel claims in 2001, for cases when the story is deemed to be in the public interest and the publisher is held to have acted responsibly. It is designed to protect investigative journalists acting in good faith and reporting on matters of public interest.”

During the appeal, the judge (England’s second most senior) said that reporting of allegations was not covered by Reynolds, saying:

“Of course, it will add something to the substance and newsworthiness of the story that the police are investigating the claimant, but it seems to me that it would be tipping the scales too far in favour of the media to hold that not only the name of the claimant, but the details of the allegations against him, can normally be published as part of a story free of any right in the claimant to sue for defamation just because the general subject matter of the story is in the public interest.”

The Guardian quotes media lawyer Mark Stephens, who says that the ruling calls into question “all the developments in terms of Reynolds and neutral reporting”, adding: “Clearly it is in the public’s interest to know the details of allegations that are being made to the police. It is an extremely troubling judgement.”

The Times plans to appeal the decision.