Thursday, July 10, 2008

He fought the law

I've a post in the works, which may appear below this one, on the differences between our watchees. Nick's Standard piece, Mosley's trial by tabloid is the price of free speech is bizarre enough to merit its own (more or less) post.

When Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran in 1980, Henry Kissinger looked at the two ghoulish combatants and said: "It's a pity they can't both lose."

As I really don't trust Nick to keep his facts straight, I had a quick google. While Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Irish Independent supports Nick's quote, US sources seem to prefer "too bad they can't both lose." When he said it, seems to be lost altogether. Presumably, some time after 1975 and before 1987 (though the war didn't start until 1980 - Nick got that right - so it could just have been a quip Kissinger kept on standby). From what I know of the Iraq-Iran war, both sides did lose.

And anyway, what's he doing quoting Kissinger?

Yet it would be hugely against the public interest if he won his case. British judges have already made our libel courts a national embarrassment. As the American human rights group Freedom House puts it, Britain has taken the lead in using "strict lopsided libel laws to punish and muzzle journalists, authors and publishers". At a great cost to free speech, "influential moneyed interests" are silencing legitimate investigations into the financing of terrorism and political corruption.

Freedom House map of the world shows the UK to be 'free'. And here is Freedom House's pdf "Libel Tourism—A Growing Threat To Free Speech". Its conclusion:

The practice of intimidating and silencing journalists and authors from other countries under British libel law has earned the UK a reputation for being the Libel Capital of the World. But such plaintiff-friendly laws are not restricted to the British Isles. Common law–based systems in Asia, for example, open the door for influential moneyed interests to gain an enormous legal advantage, at great cost to free speech. In fact, this can be seen as part of a larger global trend identified by Freedom House, in which countries are increasingly using strict lopsided libel laws to punish and muzzle journalists, authors, and publishers. Terrorist financing and corruption-related topics have often been the objects of such suits, bringing larger public-policy concerns into the equation. The pernicious and far-reaching damage caused by libel tourism makes more vocal and effective advocacy on this issue an imperative.

Emphases mine. Note that the conclusion is "the world needs Freedom House (go us!) more than ever!"

I see it happening almost weekly. For instance, you may remember the story about Vitol, an oil company which paid kickbacks to Saddam's henchman during the UN's oil-for-food scandal. It quickly died, not because the accusations didn't have substance - Vitol admitted its guilt in a grand larceny case before the New York courts in November - but because newspapers have been deluged with legal warnings. The law in Britain is so expensive and so weighted against the press that the media backed off.

This says a lot about the media if true. And if there's one thing journalists do when proved right, it's crow about it endlessly. Revenge best served cold and all that. Is this the best example Nick can come up with? No, it's not, see below.

If this judgment now extends to privacy law, I can soon see it becoming-impossible for a newspaper to report that a minister who is demanding public- sector pay restraint is claiming a small fortune in expenses, or that a politician who denounces single mothers is keeping a mistress on the side.

I can't see this at all. The Guardian reports Max Moseley:

"I've been doing [S&M] for 45 years and ... if it hadn't been for bribery and illegal acts, this wouldn't have come out," said Mosley, who added that he had kept his activity from his wife.

Indeed, Moseley's case seems to rest on the illegality of the NoTW's sting. The News of the Screws outed Robin Cook without problems - and he hadn't even denounced single mothers. As for expenses, there is the Freedom of Information act. So far, expenses claims are pretty much in the public domain.

The prurient hypocrisy of the News of the World is the price we have to pay for a free country.

You know, I don't think it is. Sorry to be all Aaro-ish, but I don't think my freedom is affected at all if the News of the World loses. As I hope it does.

But you can't, as they[1] say, keep a good[2] blogger down. Nick returns to blogging.

I’ve written many times about how England’s libel laws are the last resort of the scoundrel. It’s not simply that the judiciary allowed Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer, Robert Maxwell and George Galloway to collect damages, but that they have opened the doors of their court to Saudi billionaires and Ukranian oligharchs wishing to suppress criticism.

Now, as I remember it, Aitken did not collect damages, but went to jail for perjury - the Guardian hired George Carman. If Nick is right, he must be referring to some other case with Aitken won and I've forgotten. If so, his argument against all four is that they're all bad men, clearly guilty of some things, so how can they ever win in court? Guardian: Government 'did not try' to fend off Saudi inquiry threats. I'm sorry, who didn't? The judiciary? Russian oligarchs. Actually, the Sun went very strange over Usmanov: photoshopping Russian fur hats onto Arsene Wenger and calling his team 'Arsenalski'. The courts didn't make it do that: its natural creepiness did.

By far the oddest thing about Nick's post is that it presumes (wrongly in my opinion for what that's worth here) that Harry's Place may lose if taken to court by the British Muslim Initiative. David T

Notably, he does not take issue with our reporting of the revelation, made in a Panorama documentary in 2006, that he is a senior activist in the clerical fascist terrorist organisation, Hamas. The BBC report disclosed that Mr Sawalha “master minded much of Hamas’ political and military strategy” and in London “is alleged to have directed funds, both for Hamas’ armed wing, and for spreading its missionary dawah”.

Note that the actual digging was done by those unmanly folks in the state-funded broadcast media. I doubt the Beeb used the words "clerical fascist terrorist organisation", but for it to be a worthwhile revelation, they clearly thought his connections did not reflect well on him. Unlike Harry's Place, Panorama have lawyers to check what they say before it goes out. Nick:

You may think it can’t claim for defamation because an organisation which repeats the conspiracy theories of Adolf Hitler has no reputation to lose. If you do, you don’t know the English judiciary.

Ah, they're all fascists.

Bonus question, because I can. Who called Alastair Campbell a 'fascist' in his diaries and why?

[1] No, I'm not going to tell you who they are. Can't we publish anything without all this "facts, facts, facts" business? You sound like Gradgrind.

[2] See 1.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How irritating that, given the many statements posted on HP for which they could legitimately be sued (e.g. Nick's description of Ken Livingstone as a 'Jew-baiter'), someone is threatening them with action on a matter on which they are actually in the right.

It's a bit like Hamilton v Fayed again, in that I find myself rooting for both sides to lose.

7/10/2008 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Ah, Freedom House. A Google search would aid comprehension here, I think, or a glance at a list of more recent previous members.

Not to say they're wrong, of course - merely very much in tune with Nick's recent hobby horses.

7/10/2008 09:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do we know for sure Nick has left the Observer yet? It's been more than a month since he last appeared. I predict a move to the Telegraph if they'll have him. And, shockingly when you think about it, He'd be the most right-wing voice on the paper except for Heffer.

7/11/2008 12:16:00 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

I think Nick is not referring to the SFO corruption inquiry into bribery relating to arms deals (which was not about libel but about corruption), but to legal threats from Saudi squillionaires against newspapers who wanted to publish unfavourable allegations about them. I think there was something in Private Eye about this not too long ago.

7/11/2008 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddly enough the Guardian Diary said on the same day as Nick, of the Mosley/NOTW fight "As Kissinger once observed: 'It's a shame they can't both lose.'. "

When it came to the Iran -Iraq war, this was actual US policy, they tended to back Iraq until it looked too much like IRaq would win outright, then they let go of the Iraq-support pedal. The New York Times explained it in 1984

"The New York Times

May 22, 1984

The No-Win Goal in the Gulf

In Henry Kissinger's apt phrase, the ultimate American interest in the war between Iran and Iraq is that both should lose. The underlying hope is that mutual exhaustion might rid the Middle East of the aggressive regimes of both Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein, yet leave their nations intact to avoid a superpower rush into any vacuum."

The end result was that the US was implicated in a war that killed hundreds of thousands. In the process they pumped up Saddam to the point he invaded Kuwait. Kissinger's attempt to cunningly undermine Baatho fascists and Islamo fascists just led to more death and destruction without really weakening either - a failed policy. Nick has instead backed a new, different failed policy in the region. In other news, the Press Gazette says Nick has settled with the New Statesman

7/11/2008 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Just so I know, what is Nick's problem with Gorgeous winning his court case?

7/11/2008 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger John B said...

I think it's that Gorgeous is objectively pro-fascist, and therefore shouldn't win court cases even if he does happen to be in the right on that particular occasion...

7/11/2008 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just about to ask the same question as EJH.

Presumably Nick is referring to GG's case against the Daily Telegraph. All the reports about the original case, and the Court of Appeal decision, seem clear about why GG was right and why the DT was wrong. Nick does indeed seem to be suggesting that it was OK for the DT to exaggerate because of who GG is. This would be a very bad precedent.

(I seem to remember reading in Private Eye that the DT tried the same line of defence in the court case and got a very dusty answer frm the judge.)

Moussaka Man

7/11/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick's attitude to GG is similar, of course, to the attitude of most of our political class to Iraq, or to Iran for that matter. Iraq and Iran must be in the wrong even if the facts point the other way.

I'm reminded of one of Blair's statements just before the invasion of Iraq: "we can't back down now because then Saddam will have won".

Moussaka Man

7/11/2008 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I do remember that HP used to get terribly upset about the Telegraph court case and complain that the evidence had not actually been put before the court. My recollection was that this was because of the poor quality of aforesaid evidence, which is precisely the sort of evidence that is not supposed to be put before a court in the first place.

7/11/2008 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks chaps:

Simon: agree. I'm actually rooting for Harry's Place here because they are, as you say, in the right. The thing is lawyers are involved. As one of my favourite Brecht lines goes: In war, the poor on both sides always lose. This can easily be adapted to litigation.

FR: well the rule here is to treat anything calling itself something like 'Freedom House' as it's in Nineteen Eighty Four. Ministry of Love, Ministry of Truth, Victory Mansions etc. I can't think of anyone since Martin Luther King who has used the word 'freedom' without making me barf. Nelson Mandela OK, him too.

Anon 1: oh I hope not. I buy the Torygraph. The Mail or the Express, please. The Torygraph has a token neocon in Con Coghlin (sp?) who is regularly ripped by Jim Henley.

Robin: he may have been. But since said squillionaires have paid hush money, I can't be blamed for not knowing about this. I fear the reference may have passed over most ES readers' heads too.

Anon 2: good catch. Does anyone know of any good sources on the Iran-Iraq war? I somehow have the impression that both sides bought their chemical weapons: but that may be my own quasi-Decent prejudice in assuming that such countries are too backward to develop and manufacture their own.

John B is exactly right, IMO. Bad guys should never win court cases. The law should be ad hominem rather than ad argumentum or something. I think the Galloway case was all to the good. If papers think twice before publishing half-baked allegations we might trust them more.

7/11/2008 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Iraq and Iran both invested a ton of oil money in the 70s and early 80s building petrochemical industries, as did most of the Gulf states. A lot of expat Brits and Germans worked on them. Officially it was part of a high development economics big push, but once the knife is sharpened, all kinds of things can be cut, as von Humboldt so wisely said. As far as actual gas went, they were more than self-sufficient. UNSCOM recorded it all in great detail in the early 90s, then blew it up.

7/11/2008 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Also, I fell out quite badly with a friend from university by asking his new girlfriend, an employee of Freedom House, which section of the CIA she worked for.

He is now, I think, some sort of top Tory press-policywonk-wotsname. As are practically everyone I knew at university, with the exception of the girl who joined UKIP.

7/11/2008 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the limitations on Freedom House, see for example

There is another pop at Freedom House here

7/12/2008 09:43:00 AM  

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