The Daily Telegraph, the law and regulation

In Debate on May 26, 2009 at 8:58 am

The Daily Telegraph took legal action against Tory MP Nadine Dorries over the weekend after comments she made on her blog. She questioned the nature of the Telegraph’s reporting of MPs’ expenses and the political motivations of its proprietors.

Earlier this month, various newspaper editors have been appearing in front of the culture, media and sport select committee to give evidence of the “chilling affect” that the operation of privacy and libel laws is having on newspapers.  The Telegraph did not submit evidence directly to the committee , although the Press Complaints Commission, Press Standards Board and Society of Editors did – and the Telegraph belongs to all of these bodies. They fear that many newspapers are deterred from being able to print controversial stories because of the costs of defending the claims in the courts.

Unlike the Daily Telegraph, Nadine Dorries’ blog is not subject to any regulation other than the law of the land and whatever codes of conduct the Tory party has in place regarding the public utterances of its MPs. Of course, had she have spoken the words in the House of Commons, they would have been beyond the reach of the Telegraph’s lawyers under parliamentary privilege.

Nadine Dorries‘ take on the story is that:

“This was just little me, and two of the richest men in the world who own a newspaper empire and can pretty much say what they want, when they want, to who they want, had, using their wealth and muscle, shut me down.”

In taking the action, the Telegraph clearly recognises that the reporting of inaccurate, false or misleading statements can damage a reputation unfairly. For that reason, the group presumably does not favour unfettered free speech. But the case still poses some interesting questions:

  • What would constitute an appropriate regulatory regime?
  • Is it right that a blog on the Telegraph’s website is regulated by the PCC but that Nadine Dorries’ blog is not regulated by anyone?
  • Or are the courts a sufficient backstop?
  • How do newspapers want to see the law reformed and would this have changed the options available to the Telegraph

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