Thursday 24 March 2022

Media Quotes of the Week: From shaming the London libel lawyers who acted for oligarchs to judge backs journalist's right to protect sources

Publisher Arabella Pike in the Sunday Times [£] on how billionaire oligarchs used London's libel lawyers to try and stop investigations into their wealth: 
"The attacks were swiftly identified by various media campaigners as Slapps (strategic litigation against public participation). These are abusive lawsuits designed to manipulate existing legislation to intimidate and outspend journalists, writers, whistle-blowers, activists, NGOs, academics and publishers into silence and/or censorship.This litigation takes many forms, but its common purpose is to remove information from the public domain or prevent its publication altogether...

"You need a spine of titanium to withstand the pressures of litigious billionaires. Stress does awful things to your health, whatever its cause. I think we all suffered sleepless nights, exhaustion and feelings of being stuck in a process that would never end. The letters are crafted to undermine confidence in yourself and your work. The financial costs are huge, but so are the psychological."
  • David Davis MP in the House of Commons in January on the use of Slapp libel actions to stop journalists investigating rich oligarchs and businesses: “This is lawfare—lawfare against British freedom of speech, lawfare against the freedom of the press, and lawfare against justice for our citizens. Lawfare is the misuse of legal systems and principles by extraordinarily rich individuals and organisations to destroy their critics and opponents. In many cases, our reporters face reputational and financial ruin in defending themselves from these malevolent cases; even if they win, the expense and impact are huge. The chilling effect on a free press is extraordinary.”

The Times
[£] in a leader:
"The lawyers who act for Russian oligarchs in attempting to protect their wealth and reputations are not disinterestedly pursuing justice. They are enriching themselves and their firms by defending the powerful against scrutiny. The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has a moral obligation to investigate this scandal...

"Bob Seely, a Conservative MP, named in parliament four English lawyers from prominent firms who he said were working with “Putin’s henchmen”. And two British journalists, Catherine Belton and Tom Burgis, told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week that legal firms in London were working to intimidate investigators into dropping stories about Russian oligarchs, who can afford the vast expense of prolonged legal action. Burgis named the firms of Carter-Ruck, Schillings, Mishcon de Reya and Taylor Wessing as among the culprits. He even claimed he had been put under surveillance."

Carole Cadwalladr on Twitter: "Exciting new 14-page legal letter today. The most interesting aspect of it is the contention that as a responsible journalist you should right-to-reply someone *before* posting what an MP says about them. In parliament. Under privilege."

Kelvin MacKenzie on Twitter: "Money grabbing lawyers at @carterruck, @NLawGlobal and Schillings, who have made millions representing oligarchs anxious to stop journos finding out the source of their cash, should be forced by law to send every penny to feed Ukraine. They are s**ts of the highest order."

The Kyiv Independent on Twitter:
 "Ukrainian journalist released from Russian captivity. Oleh Baturin, a journalist from Russian-occupied Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast, went missing on March 12. 'I was beaten, humiliated, threatened. They said they would kill me. They wanted to break me,' said Baturin."

Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, on being rescued by Ukraine soldiers from Mariupol after being told by an officer the Russians were hunting the AP journalists who were documenting the siege:
" 'If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,' he said. 'All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain'.”

Chris Mullin speaking outside the Old Bailey after Judge Lucraft ruled he did not have to reveal the sources of his investigation into the Birmingham pub bombings to West Midlands Police:
“The right of a journalist to protect his or her sources is fundamental to a free press in a democracy. My actions in this case were overwhelmingly in the public interest. They led to the release of six innocent men after 17 years in prison, the winding up of the notorious West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad and the quashing of a further 30 or so wrongful convictions. This case also resulted in the setting up a Royal Commission which, among other reforms, led to the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the quashing of another 500 or more wrongful convictions. My investigation is also the main reason why the identity of three of the four bombers is known." 

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet in a statement:  “This judgment is a hopeful beacon at a time when we rely more than ever on dependable news, despite journalists facing mounting legal challenges. Few reporters have been more courageous and dogged than Chris Mullin, nor have they been so spectacularly vindicated. This case threatened press freedom and amounted to another attempt to criminalise the legitimate actions of journalists. In refusing this production order, the judge has recognised the principle that the NUJ will always defend – that protecting sources underpins every journalist’s ability to report."