Clauses Noted: 1
Publication: The Guardian
Messrs Kirby & Co., solicitors of London SW19 complained on behalf of Mr Graham Baldwin, that reports of the trial of a defamation action brought by the complainant against The Guardian and published between 10-21 November 1998 did not distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact and did not report fairly the outcome of the action in breach of Clause 1(iv) and (v) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was rejected.
The complainant was successful in a libel action and obtained damages against the newspaper which published reports of the trial on seven of the ten court days involved. The solicitors provided the Commission with the daily transcripts of the hearing in support of their contention that the reports were unfair and one-sided and made practically no reference to the complainant's case. In particular they said that a comparison with the transcripts showed that only those parts of the evidence which appeared to bolster the newspaper's case were reported while important elements of the complainant's case were omitted. There had been no reports on two of the trial days where evidence favourable to the complainant had been given. There had been no mention of important matters relating to one particular witness. Although the solicitors accepted that the newspaper was not obliged to report the trial every day or to give a full account of each day's proceedings they argued that the selection of what is reported must be based on what is newsworthy and not on partisan considerations.
The newspaper replied that in a trial spanning twelve days there was much that could not be reported for reasons of space but the omissions were not deliberately one-sided. Much favourable evidence for the defence had also been omitted. The reports were fair and accurate as was the description of the outcome of the action.
The Code's requirements relate only to the publication of the outcome of an action for defamation. Newspapers are not under an obligation to publish a daily account of a trial: the selection of material for publication is a matter of discretion for the editor.
In this case, the newspaper had properly carried out its obligation under Clause 1(v) of the Code fairly to report the outcome of the action - and that complaint was rejected.
As far as the complaint under Clause 1(iv) of the Code was concerned, the Commission did not believe that any of the reports of the trial had failed to differentiate between comment or conjecture and fact - and that part of the complaint was also rejected.
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