Abbas Media Law

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In this issue of zoom-in brief, Beth Tweddle takes legal action against Channel 4 show The Jump; the Supreme Court considers the meaning of the phrase ‘tried to strangle’; and Head of BBC Asian Network Arif Ansari is acquitted after a Rotherham sexual offences victim was named in a live broadcast.

Beth Tweddle to take legal action against Channel 4 show The Jump

Editorial credit: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

Beth Tweddle

Former Olympic athlete, Beth Tweddle, is taking legal action against the production company Twofour, which is owned by ITV Studios, after she was forced to undergo surgery on her neck and spinal cord when she hit a barrier on the Channel 4 show, The Jump.

Tweddle was airlifted to hospital in February 2016 while training on the ski jump at the show’s set in Austria. She said she had never fully recovered from the incident, which had affected her ability to work, and insisted the programme makers have never accepted responsibility.

The 33-year-old confirmed she was seeking court proceedings to “prevent others having to go through what I have for the past three years.”

She also said: “The effects of my accident still interrupt my daily life and aside from the severe physical injuries at the start, the hardest part of the recovery process has been the psychological element, dealing with and processing the whole accident and the aftermath of what happened.”

Throughout the series many other contestants were also injured including Holby City actress Tina Hobley, who dislocated her elbow and fractured her arm in two places, the sprinter Linford Christie, who suffered a hamstring injury, Made in Chelsea star Mark-Francis Vandelli, who fractured his ankle, Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, who sustained a ligament injury to her knee and the Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who dislocated her shoulder in an incident she described as being more “painful than childbirth”.

In total, 34 celebrities were injured across the four series of the programme.

Production company Twofour have said in a statement: “This matter is being dealt with by our insurers and we are unable to comment as the claim is ongoing.”

LIBEL: Supreme Court hears ‘tried to strangle’ libel claim

The Supreme Court last week heard an appeal in Stocker v Stocker – a libel claim over an allegation made by Ms Stocker that her ex-husband Mr Stocker ‘tried to strangle’ her. Ms Stocker made the allegation in a Facebook post as part of an exchange with her ex-husband’s new partner who had added her as a Facebook friend.

The key dispute is over the meaning of the words ‘tried to strangle’. Do they mean, as Mr Stocker alleges and the lower courts found, that he tried to kill Ms Stocker? Or do they mean, as Ms Stocker says, that he had violently gripped her neck?

Although words can convey different meanings to different people, in defamation claims the Judge will determine the one true meaning of the words complained of – the meaning it would convey to the ordinary reasonable reader. The Judge does so by reading the words themselves; the litigants cannot introduce evidence of what people who had in fact read the words understood them to mean.

In this case the trial Judge looked at the Oxford English Dictionary to assist him. Whether his use of the dictionary was appropriate is one of the matters in issue. He then found the ‘tried to strangle’ meant ‘tried to kill’.

The Judge found on the evidence that Mr Stocker had put his hand over Ms Stocker’s mouth and under her chin and this at least amounted to common assault. There was also a police report of the incident which showed Ms Stocker had handprints on her neck.

However, Ms Stocker could not prove that her ex-husband had tried to kill her by strangulation. As a result, Ms Stocker’s defence of truth failed and she faces a costs bill in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Ms Stocker is challenging the Judge’s decision on meaning, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal. Her lawyers argue that if she succeeds on this meaning issue, her defence of truth ought necessarily to also succeed.

The case has attracted criticism from women’s rights organisations, who take the view that if Mr Stocker succeeds the law is silencing women who speak out about domestic violence. In the #metoo era, the law has been criticised by those who wish to speak out about experiences of abuse, whether sexual misconduct or violence. Both libel law and non-disclosure agreements (often known as ‘gagging clauses’) have come under fire. In hearing this case, the highest court in the land enters the fray. zoom-in will report further when the Supreme Court gives its judgment.

Reporting Restrictions - BBC Exec acquitted after sexual offence victim named on air

The Head of the BBC’s Asian Network, Arif Ansari, has been acquitted after a Rotherham sexual offences victim was named in a live broadcast. Ansari was editing the programme, and stood accused of allowing the reporter to name the victim as he reported live from outside the trial of her abuser.

Victims of sexual offences have automatic lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. This applies not just to victims named in court hearings; the protection starts at the time the allegation is made.

The reporter, who had shown the script to Ansari in advance, said he believed the name was a pseudonym. Ansari said that he had not questioned the name as anonymity for sexual offences victims is a basic principle of journalism and he trusted the reporter. The script was not seen by BBC lawyers. In fact, the reporter, whilst having been at the BBC for 9 years, had never reported on a court case before, although Ansari said he did not know this in advance. The BBC criticised the decision to bring the prosecution against Ansari personally rather than against the organisation.

Ansari was found not guilty because the Judge could not conclude that Ansari had ‘reasonable suspicion’ the report would breach the victim’s anonymity when he reviewed the script. She nonetheless flagged the issue of training for court reporters.

The victim said she felt sick and panicked when she heard her name broadcast. The reporter has apologised to the victim, for what was an ‘honest mistake’, which he said he would ‘regret forever’.

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act is a vital piece of legislation for anyone reporting on allegations about, or the trial of, sexual offences. Victims cannot be named unless they have given written consent. Journalists should always be aware, and editors should question any name appearing in such a report. This case also shows the importance of obtaining pre-broadcast legal advice where appropriate. If there is any doubt about whether a victim has consented to be identified, or about whether a name is real or a pseudonym, it is sensible to remove the name from any report.

abbas media law

Abbas Media Law is a niche law firm, specialising in advice to independent production companies and broadcasters. We are true experts in our field: all lawyers and advisors have in the past worked either in-house for broadcasters and/or production companies. Accordingly, we fully understand production and the needs of our clients. We offer expert advice and representation on all programme content related matters (legal and regulatory), all aspects of business affairs, as well as complaints-handling and litigation. Visit www.abbasmedialaw.com or contact us directly at info@abbasmedialaw.com.

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