Libellists

Yes, I know I’m late on this one.

Uzbek tycoon Alisher Usmanov, who may or may not be a wobber, a wapist and a pickpocket, is looking to buy Arsenal Football Club. Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, doesn’t think Mr Usmanov is a fit and proper man to do such a thing, and published an article to that effect (Indymedia mirror) on his website.

Mr Usmanov, following in the proud tradition of fine characters such as James Goldsmith, Jeffrey Archer, Robert Maxwell and Sonia Sutcliffe, immediately hired expensive libel lawyers to threaten Mr Murray with Dire Consequences unless he expunged the article forthwith. Mr Murray’s response was that the article was true, and that he’d happily see Mr Usmanov in court (this is also known as an ‘Arkell versus Pressdram‘ moment).

If the British libel laws weren’t appallingly stupid, that would have been the end of the matter. Unfortunately, they are, and anyone who distributes a libel, knowingly or unknowingly and on a ridiculously wide definition of ‘distributes’ (legally, a paperboy delivering a newspaper with a libel on p24 would count…) is also liable to be sued. So Mr Usmanov’s lawyers also threatened the hosting company for Mr Murray’s site with a libel writ, and cravenly-but-understandably they backed down and pulled the plug.

[understandably because it's not their fight; it's not reasonable to expect the directors of a small web hosting firm to potentially lose their livelihood because the law is an ass, even if fighting for truth would be the morally courageous thing for them to do]

The good news is that, via a massive blog campaign, Mr Murray’s article has now achieved a far larger readership than it would ever otherwise have done, that Mr Usmanov’s past is now on the agenda for mainstream news organisations – and more generally, that the existence of the Internet has reduced the extent to which corrupt and powerful men can cheat and bully critics into silence. And who knows – maybe their demonstrable futility will actually lead to the reform of the UK’s libel laws to become more sane.

Personally, I don’t believe there should be libel laws at all: if people want to tell lies about me, that should be their prerogative, just as it should be mine to tell the world that the people lying about me are a shower of despicable cunts.

When I’ve raised this to people, they’ve tended to suggest that their abolition would harm innocent people wronged by the evil press. I’m sceptical that’s the case, though: I can’t think of a single libel case ever that wasn’t either over something so trivial that it’s frankly an insult to drag it into the courts (“Ugly single middle-aged rich man pays for sex! Bottle-blond pop star is gay!”), or brought by someone so despicable that – even if the story were false – the most appropriate resolution to the case would still have been to sandpaper the litigant to death.

If anyone knows of a libel case where a genuinely malicious press organ was held to account for publishing a seriously damaging and false story about someone who wasn’t a vile cunt, please post details in the comments – you might even change my mind…

15 thoughts on “Libellists

  1. Rob says:

    “If anyone knows of a libel case where a genuinely malicious press organ was held to account for publishing a seriously damaging and false story about someone who wasn’t a vile cunt, please post details in the comments”

    Nope, not a one. I can think of plenty where the exact opposite happened, but then they just issue a retraction in very small letters somewhere under all the ads for things for old people at the back of the papers & that’s it.

  2. PDF says:

    Indeed, I’ve also thought of various cases where the newspapers have been appalling cunts to decent people, but I can’t think of any of those that ended with large damages paid out…

    [I don't see Robert Murat getting a six-figure settlement, for example, despite the fact that they all-but accused him of being a creepy murdering paedophile]

  3. Neil says:

    It’s usually the accusations about Elton John that pay out best. Which must prove something, but I’m fucked if I know what.

  4. PDF says:

    Indeed, hence ‘ugly single middle-aged rich man pays for sex’ above. I think it proves that the middle-aged housewives who tend to make up juries [on the grounds that everyone else tries to get out of it] quite like Elton John…

  5. Neil says:

    Damn it. Where do I sign up for this jury service of which you speak? I’d have the rug headed caterwauling* bastard hanged.

    (*Song for Guy is okay though)

  6. dsquared says:

    I think the record for a British libel judgement (and one that will probably never be beaten because they changed the guidelines) was the £1.5m awarded against Nikolai Tolstoy in the Aldington “Minister and the Massacres” case. It wasn’t a press lawsuit so maybe your rule survives on that technicality, but I think most sane people’s conclusion from that trial was that Aldington had made the best he could out of a completely invidious situation in postwar Yugoslavia and that he was utterly blameless of the charge of being an accessory to mass murder.

  7. Phil says:

    You are SPOT ON.
    However in the case of Elton John I thought he was ‘GAY’ but now I am not too sure, are we talking about ‘GAY’ as in pre 90s or Gay as in post 90s or the current interpretation ‘Gay’.

    As for me, personally, I feel and maintain that anyone who tries to defend against a libel suite is by the very nature guilty. Those who just ignore the comments are innocent. Plus they are ‘GROWN UP’. I would also say that in the case of the tycoon you speak of, by my definition he IS very much guilty, So sue me – Thats my opinion and I will NEVER change it. Why should he be worried about getting ‘his innocence into the media’ if he were ACTUALLY innocent.
    It’s rather CHILDISH Usmanov to actually think that we ‘Give a SHIT’. Just goes to show that being rich does not hide the fact that one can still be ‘STUPID’.

    Personally I will check what it is Usmanov owns and I will make a concerted effort to AVOID it.

    That is a good idea, does anyone know what he does and how can I avoid increasing his finances. Let me know.

  8. Larry Teabag says:

    understandably because it’s not their fight; it’s not reasonable to expect the directors of a small web hosting firm to potentially lose their livelihood because the law

    Perhaps not, but it’s also not reasonable to expect them to take down several other entirely uninvolved websites as well, simply because they’re too fucking inept to do their job properly…

  9. moomoo says:

    I wonder if you would allow me to add some (allegedly) related tags so that it is easier for me to find this entertaining post at a later date.

    TAGS: Accused Rapist, Alisher Usmanov, Ambassador, Ambassadorial, Arsenal, Chelsea, Embassy, Foreign Office, Gafur Rakimov, Gazprom, Gazprom Investholdings, Gorbachev, Gulnara, Gulnara Karimova, Ivan Safronov, Jastrzebski, Karimov, Kommersant, Mapobank, Moscow, Mr Usmanov, Murder, Pardon, Craig Murray, Censorship

    Thank you.

  10. dsquared says:

    Hah! victory! Harry Brighouse’s dad, Tim of that clan, won libel damages from Tory Education Secretary John Patten, for calling him a “nutter” in the TES. Tim Brighouse is by common consent a lovely chap and the TES is a newspaper, so I WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN! Yay Davies.

  11. dsquared says:

    fuckety cunt, Wikipedia reveals that Brighouse actually won in an out of court settlement, so I have to hand my fucking prize back.

  12. Pigdog,

    What are your thoughts on the idea of Mass Libel Action? I’ve always thought it somewhat strange that I can sue someone who says, for example, Reactionary Snob is a paedophile but if I was an asylum seeker I couldn’t sue the Daily Mail if they ran a story saying ‘All Asylum seekeres roast their children on open fires for dinner’. I’d say that in the latter case ALL asylum seekers are being tarred with the same brush.

    In the first instance, I’d agree – I’m not sure individual libel law is all that necessary. However, as mass action can’t be taken it means that newspapers can cause tangible harms to large groups of people. Groups of people who don’t really have legal recourse (i.e. an individual asylum seeker can’t sue the Daily Mail in the above instance) and who don’t have access to the media. The other side to this, of course, would be that papers would be less likely to run anti-asylum seeker or, indeed, anti-traveler stories if they weren’t true.

    The downside, of course, is that we’d see things a little like mass tort law in the USA – where anyone who has sought asylum can add their name ot list and they could, in theory, bring down a newspaper. Then again, if said newspaper had told a malicious lie that had hurt a number of people so much that a judge/jury awards mass damages… fuck them?

  13. Just to make it clear – re-reading the last. I’m obviously not a paedophile! If the allegation was put forward, I wouldn’t take it to court I’d just tell everyone I know in the media that the person behind the claim was a fucking lying cunt.

    RS

  14. [...] I had chalked UK ISP Fasthosts down as a company that cravenly but understandably backed down to Alisher Usmanov, and that might have learned lessons from that debacle. [...]

  15. dave heasman says:

    I recall Michael Foot winning a pathetically small sum from teh Sun for something quite vile that they wrote, which I forget. In a masterstroke Foot joined Murdoch to the case, arguing that since he (Foot) was leader of the Opposition Murdoch must have personally approved the attack. I believe teh Sun folded without a fight, too, so no prize, but it cheers me up to recall it.

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