NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · GREAT BRITAIN · Libel · March 5, 2007
Celebrity settles U.K. libel suit with National Enquirer
March 5, 2007 · The National Enquirer has settled a libel case with actress Cameron Diaz, a case that reminds American media organizations that the United Kingdom’s more lenient libel laws still pose a threat, despite a recent ruling protecting stories in the “public interest.”
Diaz accepted damages of an undisclosed sum from American Media Inc., publisher of the Enquirer, on Feb. 16. The magazine also apologized to Diaz.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Diaz in 2005 when the magazine published an article and photos alleging an affair between Diaz and a married producer from her MTV show “Trippin’.”
According to a press release, the original article was published in the U.S. version of the Enquirer and had only “limited Internet distribution” in Britain — with only 279 hits from U.K. addresses — before it was removed from the Enquirer‘s Web site. The article and photos were not included in published editions of the magazine in Britain.
London attorney Niri Shan, who represents the Enquirer‘s U.K. publisher, said this case is part of a worrying trend that endangers the rights of companies that publish in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
“I believe to allow celebrities to bring claims where publication in the U.K. is so incidental to the U.S. publication it is an abuse of the U.K. court system,” he said in a statement. “Further, it has resulted in the stifling of free expression in that the Enquirer has had to disable their U.S. website to U.K. residents. This obviously has significant implications for U.S. publishers.”
The differences between libel laws in the United States and Great Britain make it easier for public figures to collect damages for defamation if stories appear in British publications, even if the story originated in the United States.
In the United States, the law makes a distinction between public figures and private figures, and the burden for a public figure is to prove the publisher printed the article with actual malice — knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. In Great Britain, the law makes no such distinction and the courts tend to favor plaintiffs.
The media did earn a measure of protection in Britain in October in the case Jameel v. Wall Street Journal Europe. The British high court ruled that media defendants do not have to pay libel damages when the story is of public interest and written responsibly, making it more difficult for plaintiffs to win defamation cases.
However, the judges — who are known as law lords — made clear in their opinions that the protections do not apply to tabloid gossip stories.
(Media Counsel: Niri Shan, Taylor Wessing, London) — LM