Mosley’s defeat was a victory for local papers too

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Former motor racing boss Max Mosley has shown himself to be someone who does not always like to see his name in the newspapers.

But he was back in the headlines recently when his bid to establish tougher laws on privacy was rejected.

The European Court of Human Rights did not accept his argument that journalists should be required to give people ‘prior notification’ of stories that might affect their privacy.

Mr Mosley, who has run a crusade on the privacy issue since his sexual activity was featured in The News of the World, had sought tougher powers that might perhaps have been primarily directed against national newspapers.

But libel lawyer Nigel Hanson says a victory by the ex-motorsports boss would also have been to the cost of local papers such as The News.

‘He wanted the broad legal duty to be triggered whenever any aspect of a person’s private life was engaged by a proposed news story,’ said Nigel.

‘Local papers, which lack the deeper pockets of the nationals, could not have afforded to contest the injunction applications that were likely to have proliferated if prior notification became a legal requirement.

‘The risk of a chilling effect on freedom of expression, highlighted in the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, was therefore particularly marked for the regional press – which generates so much of the news later recycled by the nationals.’

European judges rejected Mr Mosley’s claim that not being told before publication of a story relating to his private life was a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Among the submissions to the court was one by Geoffrey Robertson QC on behalf of a number of newspapers.

He told judges: ‘A full day hearing at the High Court will cost the media defendant up to £60,000 if it loses and about £10,000 if it wins.

‘This, of course, is the “chilling effect” of a notice requirement: newspapers will not bother to publish newsworthy stories of genuine public importance for which they must give notice because they know that giving notice will trigger expensive attempts to stop the story.’

As Nigel Hanson observes: ‘A £10,000 financial hit, in terms of costs even after a win in court, is not something the regional press could routinely countenance.’

Importantly, the court decided a prior notification duty would impinge on responsible investigative journalism and the right to freedom of expression.