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Mosley Case Poses Great Threat To Press Freedom

Mosley Case Poses Greatest Threat To Press Freedom In Recent History

The European Court of Human Rights’ has decided to fast-track a complaint by former Formula One chief Max Mosley, in which he calls for a new law that would oblige journalists all over Europe to give at least two days notice of their intention to expose the misbehaviour of a public figure so that any potential victim can go to Court to try to obtain an injunction to stop the publication.

Max Mosley was awarded damages for invasion of privacy against UK tabloid News of the World when it published an article about Mosley engaging in certain sexual activities in 2008.

The European Publishers Council (EPC) is joining force with media and anti-censorship organisations in condemning Mosley’s proposal that would, in practice, mean that news reports and investigations in the European Union which are clearly in the public interest could be blocked. For example, Members of Parliament in the UK could have prevented the Daily Telegraph from publishing recent stories about their fraudulent expenses claims on breach of privacy grounds and the Sunday Times would similarly have been prevented from exposing UK Cabinet Ministers of abusing their positions for personal gain

Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the EPC said: “If this complaint is upheld, EU governments will be obliged to pass a new law requiring the press to submit their articles to those they intend to expose so they can seek an injunction prior to publication. This flies in the face of editorial judgement as to whether or not a story is in the public interest. The freedom of the press is at stake when investigative journalism can be legally suppressed on a wide interpretation of privacy.”

Free-speech QC Geoffrey Robertson has penned the publishers’ condemnation of this proposal that will be tabled at the forthcoming Court Hearing.

Mr Robertson criticises European Court judges for their “failure to give any sensible or coherent definition to the concept of privacy” and for recent decisions in Europe (see note for editors for details) that over-rule the decision to exclude “reputation” from the definition of privacy in the 1950 European Convention. “Public figures are using this new and unintended interpretation of the law (so that “reputation” is now included in the definition of privacy). This has enabled them to circumvent the law of libel, where truth is always a defence. Whilst not defending the News of the World’s treatment of Mr Mosley, Mr Mosley should have been awarded damages for libel, but not for invasion of privacy.”

Under the European Court’s rules of procedure, the Mosley case, which is “Mosley V UK Government”, can only be defended by the British Government – not by newspapers whose future it affects.

Mark Stephens, Solicitor for the interveners[1], said: “So much is at stake that we have urgently requested that we be made a full party to the Court Hearing. This is the most serious threat to press freedom in recent history and we are not confident that the UK Government will feel it is in their interests to present a strong enough case against media censorship.”


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