Today's article stating the obvious is in The Guardian. Enjoy the cash Edgar. The Express and Star apologise on their front page! Shock, Horror!
The big problem is that ordinary people will not be able to take such action. We saw it with Elton John and we also witnessed the lesser-of-two-evils libel trial of Neil Hamilton and Mohamed Al-Fayed. Note that the Daily Star continues - even in the same issue as the apology - to carry unsubstantiated stories about the family of Shannon Matthews; a family unlikely to be able to afford the same Public Relations team or legal experts as the parents of Madeleine McCann.
The Guardian article continues..........
Wednesday March 19 2008
The front-page apologies have been heralded as "unprecedented", the McCanns have welcomed Express Newspapers' contrition over the "utter falsity" its titles published about them and the Find Madeleine fund has been topped up by £550,000. This may be seen as justice for the "grossly defamed" McCanns, but it is not victory for media law or press self-regulation.
What this case again demonstrates is that when it comes to the excesses of the press, the UK legal system allows those with a chequebook to exact punishment, but offers little protection to those who rely on self-regulation by the Press Complaints Commission.
Express Newspapers has been rightly brought to book for wildly speculative stories fuelled by irresponsible journalism. But while competitors might pontificate about their failings, they have also been party to print and broadcast output that saw headlines supplant hard facts in the quest for attention-grabbing content.
Today's statement in the high court was as inevitable as it was necessary. Express Newspapers had no option. Had it gone to trial there is little doubt a jury would have awarded an even higher sum. The public are as fickle as the press when it comes to complaining about the sensational headlines they are happy to read.
Beyond today's settlement, the key question remains: what protection do self-regulation and the law provide to protect individuals against speculative reporting?
Alongside its front page McCann apology, today's Daily Star carried the splash headline "Fantasy world of warped Mucca" and speculation about Shannon Matthews' mother. It is unlikely we will see Mrs Matthews instructing Carter-Ruck to take on the press.
The PCC - notable by its absence from today's settlement - has no legal powers over the press. It can ask editors to behave, but cannot compel compliance or punish papers. Thus we have a regulatory system that allows those who can afford to engage the legal system to obtain compensation for "utter falsities", but offers those not as resourceful as the McCanns minimal protection or compensation.
Recent judgments have made much of "responsible journalism" and "neutral reportage", but until we have a self-regulatory system that ensures these practices are followed across the industry, they will remain legal constructs rather than provide for enforceable regulatory principles.