03 Oct 4 October 2019
In this issue of zoom-in brief, Meghan Markle sues The Mail on Sunday over a letter to her father, singer Daniel Johns sues Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph over brothel allegations and Lord Hall reverses the BBC’s decision to uphold a complaint about Naga Munchetty.
Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, has initiated legal proceedings against The Mail on Sunday over its publication of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.
The claim, an unusual move for the Royal Family, is being brought against the newspaper group in the Chancery Division of the High Court and will be privately funded by the couple.
Markle alleges that the publication of the letter was a misuse of private information, an infringement of copyright and a breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.
The action was accompanied by a robust statement from Prince Harry in which he said he had been a “silent witness” to the “private suffering” of the Duchess and accused the tabloid media of waging a “ruthless” campaign that had “escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son”.
Prince Harry said coverage of their recent tour of Africa, which has been largely positive, exposed “the double standards of this specific press pack that has vilified her almost daily for the past nine months; they have been able to create lie after lie at her expense simply because she has not been visible while on maternity leave”.
“She is the same woman she was a year ago on our wedding day, just as she is the same woman you’ve seen on this Africa tour.
“For these select media, this is a game and one we have been unwilling to play from the start.”
Schillings, the law firm instructed by the Duchess, said “We have initiated legal proceedings against the Mail on Sunday, and its parent company Associated Newspapers, over the intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter written by the Duchess of Sussex, which is part of a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband.
“Given the refusal of Associated Newspapers to resolve this issue satisfactorily, we have issued proceedings to redress this breach of privacy, infringement of copyright and the aforementioned media agenda.”
The Mail on Sunday said the newspaper “stands by the story it published and will be defending this case vigorously”.
“Specifically, we categorically deny that the duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning,” they added.
Because the claim was issued in the Chancery Division, rather than in the Queen’s Bench Division’s specialist Media and Communications List, which was formally established on 1 October, the claim may be heard by the same judge who has overseen the phone-hacking litigation against The Daily Mirror and The Sun.
Whatever the outcome, both the nature of the claim and the critical tone of Prince Harry’s statement suggest that the litigation will be a watershed moment in relations between the Prince and his wife and the British media.
Silverchair frontman and former husband of Natalie Imbruglia, Daniel Johns, is suing the Sunday Telegraph over allegations that he frequented a Sydney brothel.
The story, which appeared under the headline ‘King of the Kastle’, alleged that Johns visited The Kastle for up to 18 hours a day during the previous two weeks, so much so that staff were becoming fed up with him.
The article said The Kastle specialises in BDSM, ‘brown showers’ and ‘adult babies’. It was accompanied by a photograph of Johns, which the newspaper said pictured him leaving the brothel.
Johns’ lawsuit alleges the article meant he was a pervert who had used the brothel so frequently it had become his second home. He claims the article has caused him economic harm, as well as being humiliating and hurtful.
Daniel Johns has denied the allegations saying he has never visited the brothel and had never even heard of it. This was confirmed by The Kastle’s owner ‘Mistress Scarlett’, who posted on Twitter that Johns had never been on the premises.
Johns says the Sunday Telegraph did not contact him before publication. The online version of the article has now been taken down.
Daniel Johns shot to fame aged 15 with Silverchair’s first album Frogstomp, which sold three million copies worldwide. Although Silverchair are in ‘indefinite hibernation’, Johns continues to make music both as a solo artist and in a series of collaborations. He was married to fellow Aussie singer and actress Natalie Imbruglia between 2003 and 2008.
As zoom-in recently reported, the Telegraph lost another high profile defamation case earlier this year after it was ordered to pay Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush $2.9m in damages over articles alleging he behaved inappropriately towards an actress alongside whom he was appearing in a play.
The Director-General of the BBC, Lord Hall, has personally stepped in to reverse a decision to uphold a complaint against BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty over her criticism of comments made by Donald Trump.
Munchetty had been found to have breached the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which prohibit journalists from giving opinions about an individual or their motives, but an outcry over the decision led to Hall becoming involved.
The episode began with inflammatory tweets by Trump referring to Democrat politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he wrote on Twitter on 14 July.
During a discussion about Trump’s language with co-presenter Dan Walker on BBC Breakfast three days later, Munchetty said: “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.
“Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”
Walker said that “it feels like a thought-out strategy to strengthen his position” to which Munchetty replied “And it is not enough to do it just to get attention. He’s in a responsible position. Anyway I’m not here to give my opinion.”
A viewer complaint was received in relation to both presenters, but then only focused on Munchetty at the final stage of the complaints process.
The complaint was partially upheld by the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit, which found that the guidelines “do not allow for journalists to… give their opinions about the individual making the remarks or their motives for doing so – in this case President Trump”.
A groundswell of support for Munchetty included an intervention from 44 British broadcasters and journalists of colour, who asked the BBC to revisit the ruling in an open letter published in the Guardian.
Writer Afua Hirsch, who helped organise the letter, said: “The ruling legitimises racist opinion.”
The BBC’s Executive Committee published a letter of its own on the same day in which it defended its position. But within a few days, Hall executed a U-turn, writing in an e-mail to staff that “It was only ever in a limited way that there was found to be a breach of our guidelines. These are often finely balanced and difficult judgements.
“But, in this instance, I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.”
The furore highlights the difficulty for the BBC, and the media generally, in maintaining impartiality in an increasingly febrile and partisan media landscape, in which younger viewers have come to expect a less detached approach from journalists.
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