Thursday 22 October 2009

How I was Peter Carter-Rucked for Christmas by the owner of the Daily Mail. . .

Here's a story combining two subjects of major media interest at the moment: Carter-Ruck and the Daily Mail.
It was just before Christmas 1997 and I was acting editor of Press Gazette. The fax machine (remember them?) beeped into life. The paper chugging out of the fax carried the fearful heading "Peter Carter-Ruck And Partners" - and it wasn't a Christmas card.
It was a strongly worded complaint on behalf of Viscount Rothermere, proprietor of Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail etc., which accused us of "a gross and extremely hurtful libel".
Gosh! What had we done? We had carried the front page of the latest issue of Punch magazine that had mocked up a picture of Lord Rothermere reading a copy of the Daily Mail, referring to his wife, headlined: "My Life With Bubbles By Her Toyboy." Our story said, accurately, that the Evening Standard, also part of the Associated empire, had, perhaps not unsurprisingly, pulled an advert for that issue of Punch.
I phoned Peter Carter-Ruck, who had previously been our lawyer, and made the point that of all people journalists would know that Punch was a satirical magazine and realise that the Daily Mail would never in a million years run a front page splash headlined: "My Life With Bubbles".
Peter's response to my compelling argument was "shall I send the writ to you personally, or to the magazine?"
Several weeks and many faxes later we carried a statement that made clear there was no issue of the Daily Mail that carried the front page headline 'My Life With Bubbles', nor was Lord Rothermere in any way party to the publication of any such article. We regretted causing any embarrassment to Lord Rothermere.
That was the end of the matter. All that was left for me to do was to explain to our new publisher how come we had to pay out £587.50 in legal costs to Carter-Ruck for reproducing the front page of a magazine freely available at newsagents across the country.

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