Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Marsh: 'Don't leave the public out of libel reform'

The BBC's Kevin Marsh has urged that the public should not be forgotten in the debate about the reform of the libel laws.

He said the problem about reforming the libel laws is that "not all journalism is honest, well sourced and fair minded or in the public interest?".

Marsh, executive editor of the BBC College of Journalism, claimed: "We journalists deceive ourselves about why we're loathed by the very public in whose interest we profess to report."

Speaking at at the debate 'Libel Reform: In the Public's Interest' at Gray's Inn, Marsh said too many journalists "make up too much, too often". He said dozens of journalists were "mired in churnalism, regurgitating unchecked copy" and thousands of people have had their lives trashed by gossip re-cycled as news.

Marsh, a former editor of the Today programme, said people talk about the "chilling" impact of the libel laws on the press , but the Express and Star newspapers which committed 106 libels against the McCanns could have "done with some chilling".

He argued that reversing the burden of proof would be "a charter for reputational muggings". Marsh suggested there should be a defence of "honest journalism" and that there should be a simplification and speeding up of remedies in libel cases.

Razi Mireskandari, of Simons Muirhead & Burton, told the debate, held in association with the Media Standards Trust and INFORRM, that the biggest problem facing defamation was the excessive fees with publishers facing bills of over £1 million if cases went to trial.

He suggested the success fees for Conditional Fee Arrangements should be cut from 100% to 25 % and that should be recovered from damages.

Sir Charles Gray, the barrister and former High Court Judge, said he had been told that a newspaper was being sued by a footballer who had retained three silks on CFAs and the legal bill was running at £100,000 a week.


Anonymous said...

I find the quotation ""Journalists deceive ourselves about why we are loathed by the public." reads rather strangely, for someone who pontificates on this somewhat specialised section of the BBC web site.

But then, I find the same about the opening sentence of the esteemed gentleman's latest blog offering: "The latest figures make it clear that the number of young men carrying and using knives is increasing sharply." Cutting wit, maybe, but - word order?

There are numerous examples of this lamentable lack of style littered throughout Mr. Marsh's blogs, unfortunately.

What a shining example to us all!

Jon Slattery said...

Dear Anonymous,

I think the blame lies with my editing of Kevin Marsh's quote, which should have read: "We journalists deceive ourselves about why we're loathed by the very public in whose interest we profess to report."

I've now corrected it.