Defamation cases brought against media companies fall sharply


Media Editor

The High Court drama of the big libel hearing is becoming a rarity. New research shows there has been a sharp fall in the number of cases for defamation brought against media companies, despite a succession of press scandals and Parliament's demand for a new regulator of the newspaper industry.

A study by the legal information arm of Thomson Reuters found that only 20 defamation cases against media companies reached court in 2012-2013, a reduction of 58 per cent from 2008-2009 when there were 48 such cases. The number of actions lodged at the High Court, an earlier stage of proceedings, dropped by 40 per cent in the same period.

The study found that a rush to the libel courts by celebrity claimants has slowed, with the number of cases down from 11 in 2008-2009 to seven last year, including actions brought by the model Naomi Campbell and the comedian Frankie Boyle. The number of defamation actions taken to court by politicians has grown from three to six in the same period.

Thomson Reuters said that there had been an increase of defamation cases where the publisher was not a media organisation but an individual. "The ubiquity of email, blogs and web forums make it ever easier to defame a personal or business contact," it said. British solicitor and blogger Sarah Hermitage was taken to the High Court in London by Tanzanian media magnate Reginald Mengi over her blog and email content - but the businessman was ordered to pay £1.2m in costs.

The fall in cases involving the media does not necessarily mean an improvement in press standards. In the atmosphere generated by the Leveson inquiry into the press, newspapers have been anxious to avoid going to court, it was claimed. "Newspapers are under the microscope and that may have led them to be more cautious and more willing to negotiate a settlement," said libel lawyer David Price, QC. "They can't afford to fight a defamation claim stubbornly to the bitter end unless they are absolutely certain of winning or because there is a very important principle involved."

The Daily Telegraph went to court to fight a libel claim by Naomi Campbell over a story that had falsely claimed that she had organised an elephant polo match at a party in India. The model won substantial damages and an apology from the paper in January.

Mr Price said the proliferation of electronic communications left individuals vulnerable to libel claims. "The enormous volume of email correspondence made between individuals is leading to a growing number of them being caught out after straying into defaming colleagues, acquaintances, or rivals," he said. "This means that we are seeing more individuals having to defend themselves in court."

The introduction of the new Defamation Act, which received Royal Assent in April, is likely to further reduce the number of cases brought against media organisations. But Parliament's new Royal Charter on press regulation, which allows for exemplary damages to be imposed on publishers who do not sign up to the Charter process, could encourage more actions, the study claimed.

While defamation cases against the media have fallen, the number of actions brought to court against public sector bodies has risen from one in 2008-2009 to nine last year. 

There has also been an increase in defamation cases brought by businesses, rather than individuals, up from 16 to 25 during the period. The report suggested this was a reflection of companies being worried about reputational damage during an economic downturn. "The increase in the number of defamation cases brought by businesses since the credit crunch shows how they have become more protective of their brand and reputation during a period of slow economic growth," it said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living