I think the Daily Mail, the newspaper that has Paul Dacre at its helm, has blown it. According to a Court judgment issued last Friday, he has allowed his newspaper to publish deliberate untruths in order to further his campaign against privacy injunctions. The injunction in question involved “Fred the Shred”, the erstwhile banker who has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds when the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) collapsed.
So how did the Daily Mail attempt to undermine a privacy injunction? As is well known Sir Fred Goodwin had an affair with a senior female employee at the bank. Who is this woman? Was she involved in the decisions that caused the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to collapse? Is there a public interest in her identity? These are familiar questions for fans of such injunctions.
The Court record states that in the Daily Mail, dated 20 May, there was extensive coverage of “the bonking banker”. The Court reported that:
“Much of the front page is the headline ‘Sir Fred's affair: why we do have a right to know’. Words at the bottom of the page direct the reader to page 6. Page 6 continues the story from page 1 at the lower half of the page. On the upper half of page 6 there is another article under the headline "Did Sir Fred's affair with senior colleague affect his judgment before RBS collapse?" On page 7 there is a commentary by John Hemming MP, and three shorter pieces in boxes. There is also a comment piece on page 14”.
The injunction prevented the Daily Mail from publishing the woman’s name. So instead the paper published 360 words about the woman and a pixellated photograph of the lady (see references). I let the Court judgment take up the story:
“Mr Tomlinson [QC for the woman] submits that it [the 360 words] contains the following items of information about the lady each of which he submits identify her, or tends to identify her: (1) the pixellated photograph reveals her hair style and colour: (2) the title and the third paragraph indicate the size of her salary (the figure is one which few women earn in any organisation) and (3) the importance of her job; (4) the fifth paragraph gives her age (as does the continuation of the article from page 1); (5) the sixth paragraph gives information about her degree level education and (6) another qualification, which relatively few people achieve; (7) it also describes her previous employer, (8) her family status and (9) whether she has children; (10) the ninth paragraph describes the kind of neighbourhood and house in which she lives and in which part of the country.
However, to defend itself Counsel (Mr Caplan) for Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL is the organisation that publishes the Daily Mail): “stated that certain further information in the fifth paragraph about the lady's job is false. Mr Caplan stated that information was known by ANL to be false. He said it was a deliberate falsehood”. (my emphasis).
Note that the information about the importance of this woman’s job creates a public interest in knowing whether there was a conflict of interest. In this regard the Judgment continues:
“In the third and eighth paragraphs there is information given that she had been promoted whilst Sir Frederick Goodwin was in charge of RBS. Mr Tomlinson informed the court that this information is also false. Mr Caplan did not disagree. As to this information Mr Caplan said he did not know whether ANL knew it to be false or not, at the time when it was published”.
Now ask yourself a simple question: as the Daily Mail knows the identity of the woman is it credible that the newspaper did not know what details were true and which were false? According to Mr Caplan “The effect of the false information ...was that it would tend to make a reader less likely to identify the lady”, an explanation which I find incredulous.
I think the Daily Mail's intent is clear. It is an invitation for a Daily Mail reader who is also a former RBS bank employee or neighbour of the woman concerned to Tweet the name of woman (or do something else on the Internet) so that the woman can be “outed”. As soon as that name appears on the Internet (no doubt Daily Mail journalists are Googling the name as we read!), it can be reported by the rest of the media. In this way, the injunction is undermined.
Is there a public interest in knowing the woman’s name? According to the Daily Mail there is; however the truth is somewhat different. The judgement states: “If ANL had believed the information about the lady's promotion to be true, I would have expected .... (ANL).... to put it at the forefront of his argument. But he did not mention it”. The judgement also added: “If ANL had had evidence of a misuse of corporate power by Sir Frederick Goodwin then that might have been a very powerful argument for discharge of the injunction”. In other words, the newspaper had no public interest arguments.
So there we have it. A newspaper editor undermining the credibility of his newspaper’s journalism in order to break a privacy injunction. Instead of engaging in the Courts or with Parliament with facts in the public interest, he has allowed a leading newspaper in the UK to undermine the rule of law by manufacturing and publishing, what are in effect, deliberate lies.
This approach to resolve the privacy injunction issue is completely misguided; it does the newspaper industry no credit at all.
The Court judgment: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2011/1341.html
The Daily Mail’s 360 words can be downloaded here View this photo
The Daily Mail editor’s (Paul Dacre) speech attacking Eady J and privacy injunctions: https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=42394&c=1
The next DP courses start on July 13 in London. Next Update is October 17th 2011 in London. We have timetabled our Audit, Privacy Impact Assessment, and RIPA courses for September 12th, 13th and 14th in London. Full details on the Amberhawk main site (www.amberhawk.com).