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back to article News archives can lose libel protection as stories change

A newspaper which continued to publish a defamatory article on its website after its subject was cleared in an investigation lost its right to claim a special journalistic defence against libel, the High Court has said. The ruling makes it clear that while responsible journalism is given some libel protection, that protection …

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Anonymous Coward

Interesting...

... do they have to go back to libraries to cut out the offending article from stored paper copies?

In any case, isn't it a matter of record that the article *was* published in that form, on that date, in that newspaper? Should history be rewritten?

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Big Brother

The truth is out there

This could easily have been resolved by the Ministry of Truth. Maybe they are a little busy right now trying to edit Stalins life story.

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Anonymous Coward

So in 2006 Flood was under investigation

Presumably his DNA was taken and is now held on file, because he is a serious risk to the public which, simply being found innocent doesn't fix? A potential rapist, murderer etc. as per Jill Dando institutes argument? A bad-un just waiting to **RE**-offend, as Jacqui Smith put it?

And also his record is still there and will show up as evidence of bad character in future trials? Another Jacqui Smith innovation?

An archive should be historically accurate, not rewritten with each generations new prejudices.

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Anonymous Coward

ecrb

and at the same time rumour and speculation can legally be used as evidence to deny people jobs. Strange world.

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Thumb Up

Good idea

They should also ensure that he's airbrushed out of any photographs in which he appears, in case they might be taken to be evidence of guilt. It's lucky that retouching is so much easier than it was in Stalin's day. Truly these are enlightened times.

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Big Brother

Minitrue

As the novel 1984 shows so well, Authority likes to be the sole arbiter of truth.

Purely for balance I would like to point out the fact that the organisation that cleared the policeman was the organisation that had much to lose if he was found to guilty. In my experience most Police Professional Standards could not find 'proof' of a policeman's misconduct even if it was taped to their foreheads( unless of course it came from other police officers)

So now we have a new category of person - the 'unguilty'. Records to be changed, memories to be modified ( probably by taser or rack) so the glorious illusion of Authority is retained.

What is the difference between a Police national computer record and a newspaper archive record anyway ( apart from cost of access, apparently it costs £50 as a bung to get a PNC record). The Police are allowed to keep all records, however inaccurate, for as long as they want. They are allowed to pass those records on to whoever they want for any purpose.

Big Brother obviously, now I need I lie down because I think I have been channelling AMANFROMMARS.........

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Bronze badge
Go

Now presumably...

...it can't be wrong to record the previous content of the story as well as altering it with a correction for the new facts.

So, show that there was an investigation and that the copper in question was suspended and investigated, then state that no evidence of criminality was found and he was acquitted.

Easy!

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Re: Minitrue

No need for the taser or the rack, citizen, we can modify memories directly by a laser to the brain now! Oh sod it, the rack's probably more fun.

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Big Brother

Not much time to makes changes

"The Met wrote to The Times on 4 September 2007"

...

"The High Court has said that The Times could reasonably be expected to have received that letter on 5th September, and that the continued publication of an unaltered article after that date is not covered by the defence of 'qualified privilege'. "

Holy cow!

So, if you haven't edited your on-line article 2 days after they posted the letter you become guilty of defamation?

Do all "news" web sites now have to employ full-time, dedicated re-writers who must read each day's incoming mail and make any changes immediately?

That'll mean there's a vacancy for at El Reg for just such a bod then...

Has anyone mentioned 1984 yet?

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@Titus

>Do all "news" web sites now have to employ full-time, dedicated re-writers who must read each day's incoming mail and make any changes immediately?

For many, many years, actually - pretty much as long as websites have been in existence, there have been discussions as to the scope of a website's provider for liability for content on the site.

Here, the provider of the article is the author - so no chance of hiding behind an Art. 14 "hosting" defence, under the eCommerce directive - and so they are subject to the same laws of defamation as any other publisher. The decision here, whilst highly problematic for other reasons, simply reflects existing law; that, a fixed period from posting a letter, the intended recipient is deemed to have received it.

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A nuanced approach is fine - this is problematic

A distinction needs to be made before we, as a society, do something stupid.

In respect of news which is being reported as current, then, I see little problem in this - one needs to ensure that what they are saying is accurate, or, at least, there must be a balancing act between the rights and needs of the subject, and of the public. A story listed as current that implies something damaging, where it is an incorrect allegation, should, right, be treated as defamatory.

However, matters of historical record should be entirely different - a story which was accurate *as at the date it was written*, should not cause liability to fall on a provider. A printed version of the paper, which has been sold but remains accessible through a library, which contains a statement which was true at the time of publication/sale (argument to be had), is not libellous - it's a matter of fact that, at that date, the story was correct. The same should apply to online archives - if content is no longer a "current story", then, even ignoring the massive practical problems in terms of updating old material in the light of new discussions, it remains of historical value - if anything, an amended historic article is less accurate than an unamended one.

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Anonymous Coward

Persistent data

It's a bit like all those people who still put their Javascript inside HTML comments or add all sorts of rubbish to .htaccess files because they read an article on the Web that said you need to do these things. The fact that the hacks relate to obsolete 90s browsers or ancient versions of Apache 1 is lost on them. All they know is that they read it in an article on a modern looking spangly AJAX website (thanks to the site being database driven and getting various makeovers over the years).

There is a need to preserve news articles because they're a record of how things were at the time (just like your gender on *birth* certificates), but sadly we have to balance that with the braindead and lazy way many people get their information from Google.

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Silver badge
Grenade

"The Met wrote to The Times on 4 September 2007"

"The High Court has said that The Times could reasonably be expected to have received that letter on 5th September,"

Pardon my cynical laughter at the assumed efficiency of the Royal Mail which is currently, in competition with the unions, seeing who can slit their collective throats faster!

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Grenade

Google cache

What will Google make of this ruling? Google cache keeps old versions. And what of the Wayback machine? I foresee more work for the lawyers. There may now be a cottage industry in finding old, defamatory stories and asking newspapers to pull them from their websites or to modify them and then suing when they don't.

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WTF?

Wait a minute...

From the description here, it appears that the article merely said that the Met was investigating him. It didn't say, "This guy is guilty as sin; string him up" - it said, "At this time, he's being investigated by the police". That was, and still is, a fact - in 2006, he was being investigated.

In what completely insane world is that libelous?

By this logic, any article discussing the investigation or prosecution of someone who is subsequently found not guilty would be libel... and any mention of any unsuccessful investigation or prosecution would have to be redacted from existence!

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Anonymous Coward

"insufficient evidence to proceed" =/= "cleared"

Yet another "lawyer friendly" court ruling.

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Thumb Down

1984 is another day closer

This is 2009, not 1984.

Since when does the HIgh Court get to mandate the required rewriting of history?

Orwell would be turning over in his grave...

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Big Brother

hmm

""insufficient evidence to proceed" =/= "cleared" #

By Anonymous Coward Posted Tuesday 20th October 2009 19:23 GMT

Yet another "lawyer friendly" court ruling.

"

while its true ""insufficient evidence to proceed" does not really equate to"cleared"

are we to assume guilty until proven innocent for this man, how does that make us better than lord sith mandelson or the copywright barrons.....

that OC opens the question when you innocent how do you prove you are! if people assume your not as the memes out there...

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Bull

The warning on the article is clear enough for me, maybe the judge had his judgement obscured.

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