So it was very much a legal news day yesterday:

Firstly from the ‘Court Circular’ – George Galloway has won his libel action against the Daily Telegraph. For those not familiar with the story the newspaper which is the most right-wing of the British broadsheet papers published a series of documents which had allegedly been found in the rubble of a recently bombed Iraqi government ministry. These documents asserted that George Galloway had received money from Saddam Hussein to the tune of £375,000 a year. Furthermore it claimed he had misappropriated funds which were supposed to be for an Iraqi child suffering from Leukaemia. The Telegraph in its defence suggested that it had been in the public interest to publish these documents. They claimed that in doing so they were not making a judgement one way or the other as to whether the information was correct. They are now asserting that having lost the case the freedom of information for the press has been seriously compromised.

The media and the press in particular is something I have always been very interested in and I have tried to remain objective in this case because the facts interest me, it has been difficult obviously with George Galloway being considerably closer politically to me than the Torygraph. One thing that I cannot see within the Telegraph’s defence is how they have claimed that no-one has actually proven these documents fake without being able on the flip side to prove their authenticity. So basically what it boils down to is that the newspaper has in its possession documents about a public figure on the other side of the political spectrum which are unsubstantiated. In this instance do they have the right to publish these documents inflicting damage on the public figure? If the case was The Guardian (liberal UK broadsheet) against Jonathan Aitken (former Tory cabinet minister) how would I feel? Well I have chosen that analogy precisely because it did happen, only the difference was that the Guardian was able to prove the genuine nature of its sources and Aitken lost the trial and went to jail for purgery. Leaving aside the events of the two trials I am struck by a contrast in reactions of politicians over the cases. When Aitken said he was going to “stamp out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism” many MPs rallied round him saying that the media should be regulated etc. etc. The same was true around the time of Jeffrey Archer who also went to prison having lied in court during the libel trial against the Daily Mirror (centre left UK tabloid).

Now these 2 examples were during the days of a Conservative government that was not averse to corruption, morally questionable behaviour, lying and hypocrisy, so what of the Labour government now? It is the Labour government that took the BBC to task regarding its reporting the they “sexed up” the intelligence dossier on Iraq to make out that Saddam posed a more imminent threat. The BBC Director-General and Chairman were forced to resign and the reporter Andrew Gilligan was censured because his sources were not apparently corroborated. It now transpires that Gilligan’s assertion was quite correct and in fact the government had used uncorroborated sources to apply the ’45 minute claim’ against the advice of the intelligence community. The BBC D-G and Chairman have not been reinstated nor have the government even issued any statement of contrition. The parallel with the Galloway situation bears observation as the Labour party expelled George Galloway shortly after the Telegraph article but veiled under the guise that he was not consistent with party policy. The fact that Galloway’s politics had not been consistent with central Labour party policy for over 10 years was not mentioned. Suffice to say I suspect George is not expecting an apology or even less likely a call back to the party having been exonerated of the charges of ‘treason’ as some claimed. I would hope and expect that were George to receive such an invitation he would at least have a little more integrity than Ken Livingstone who practically bit the arm off the Chief Whip after a cynical Labour Party U-Turn.

Secondly David Bieber, the man who was on trial for the murder of one policeman and the attempted murder of two more was convicted and sentenced to life (whole life) with no prospect of release. It transpires that Bieber was in fact wanted in US for the murder of his wife’s lover but that he had been released on bail whilst the case was assembled and when the police in the US were ready to arrest him he fled. He escaped to Britain where he was at large for 10 years. I found the case interesting that the US is currently insisting on extensive screenings on anyone scheduled to come into the country and yet someone leaving appears to have a far easier time of things. I’ll grant you it was 10 years ago when the US was more lackadaisical but even so I found it ironic nonetheless.

Song Of The Day – E.L.O. – Evil Woman

Original Comments:

Mark Ellott made this comment,
I’ve commented on this over at my blog. The Telegraph’s main defence seems to be that old adage “public interest” and “freedom of the press”. However, they have a responsibility to determine a story’s provenance before going to press. If the story is untrue or defamatory, then it is libel. The treason charge was a ludicrous one and merely added to the libellous nature of the story. They deserved to lose. It is not, as they claimed on the steps of the court, a “black day for journalism.” They broke the rules and got caught. Tough. No sympathy.
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[Redbaron responds – Exactly, spot on, I failed to put it better myself!]

comment added :: 4th December 2004, 11:35 GMT+01
Danny the Infidel made this comment,
It seam to be a thin line between public interest and sensationalistic press. We have had some cases here where news papers have been pounced by the Press Ombudsman. In one case a newspaper reviled the photo and identity of a suspect in a high profile murder case, when he still was just held for questioning. The person was later able to sue the paper.
To claim that the fact that they didn’t made and judgement on whether the information was correct or not seam to be rather like how the Fox News are playing the game with there hints of ‘some people say’ and ‘it have been said’. Then you just want to avoid responsibility and spread gossip.
I belive that the press should be extremly free, but in the same time I cale for stricter ethical thinking among the journalists them self.
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comment added :: 4th December 2004, 17:41 GMT+01
Mark Ellott made this comment,
My own feeling is that they know damn well what they are doing and go for the publish and be damned approach. Libel or not, they sell an awful lot of newspapers that way. And, true or not, the Baghdad documents made good copy. However, tight regulation could mean governments suppressing stories that criticise them and that isn’t a good thing either. I think, on balance what happened here was a good thing as it was a timely reminder that libel costs and they can’t expect to get away with it carte blanche.
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[Redbaron responds – I heard a guy from Cairo put it into perspective – “In the darkness within the rubble of a bombed Iraqi government building a Telegraph journalist was looking around when a document fluttered down and it happened to be a document that explained in English how George Galloway was in the pay of Saddam Hussein.” This seemed to sum up the lunacy of the whole situation.]

comment added :: 4th December 2004, 20:46 GMT+01
Mark Ellott made this comment,
As Harry Hill would say; “What’s the chances of that?”
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comment added :: 5th December 2004, 10:18 GMT+01
Pimme made this comment,
Stealing from charity is horrible.
Sure, the US takes precautions if someone wants to enter, but if a known felon wants to leave, then I suppose the government is glad to be rid of him. ;^)

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[Redbaron responds – Indeed stealing from charity is morally repugnant, which is why if you are going to accuse someone of it you have a duty to ensure that the allegation has some founding. Accusations such as this are very damaging whatever the outcome. Just like accuse a man of rape and women will always be suspicious of him whether or not he was innocent. It’s the ‘throw enough mud and some of it will stick’ principle.]

comment added :: 6th December 2004, 01:17 GMT+01
Rachel made this comment,
The US is simply glad to have them out of their hair…I’m sure.
What a long post. And it’s only 7:26 in the morning. I promise I’ll report back when I’m most assuredly alive.

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comment added :: 6th December 2004, 13:26 GMT+01
Diogenes made this comment,
Is anyone going to investigate where the Galloway forgery came from? It is reminiscent of those KGB allegations against the Labour Party.
On the other issue, the Washington Sniper case showed that crossing jurisdictional borders is a good tactic for criminals.

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comment added :: 7th December 2004, 01:36 GMT+01
A visitor made this comment,
Isn’t it great that Galloway won? And the Ukrainian vox pop won! Could this all indicate a turning in the tide of deceit towards an era of truth and justice?
Hey, come and vote for me! I’ve been nominated something or other.

comment added :: 7th December 2004, 16:50 GMT+01