What does Peter Hill think of Richard Desmond’s libel action?

In Debate on July 7, 2009 at 9:59 am

The proprietor of the Daily Express, Richard Desmond, is suing investigative journalist Tom Bower for libel. According to Media Guardian the case rests on a paragraph of Mr Bower’s biography of Conrad Black which alleged that Desmond interfered in editorial policy.

Mr Desmond has hired top London legal firm Schillings to represent him in a case that will be heard by Justice Eady.

The culture media and sport select committee will shortly be publishing the findings of its inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel. In particular, the committee was keen to investigate whether the libel laws in the UK were producing a chilling effect on publishers, preventing them from investigating high profile public figures.

Express Newspapers submitted written evidence to the committee and the editor of the Daily Express, Peter Hill, was called to give oral evidence to the committee to assist its inquiry.

Mr Hill told the inquiry:

“You have firms of solicitors now who go to agents of celebrities whose sole object is to run up enormous costs so that they can keep their companies going and celebrities who want to manipulate people’s opinion of them and in many ways create a fake opinion of them.

“We have the most Draconian libel laws in this country and if you do that and it is not true, you are going to get sued. Not only that, you are going to get your Carter-Rucks on the case instantaneously because they have lookouts looking out for this at all times. We do not operate in a situation of impunity. The newspapers in this country have enormous constraints.

Hill proposed that the libel laws should be reformed in order to reduce the restrictions placed on publishers.

“We have the laws of libel which are the most severe in the world . . . If you got to the United States, they have what you could call a free press. We do not have a free press in this country by any means; we have a very, very shackled press in this country. Really you should be looking at means of removing those shackles not imposing more of them, which is what seems to me to be the tone of these discussions. How can we make the press freer? How can we have a free press? A free press is the only bastion that there really is in a democratic society; there is nothing else.”

One wonders then, what Mr Hill must think of his proprietor’s libel action against Mr Bower for defamation.


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