I am,personally, deeply puzzled about the Lord McAlpine defamation case. I wish someone could explain to me the following:
1. Old not hot gossip
As online gossip about Lord McAlpine in connection with children’s homes and child abuse circles has been around since the 1990′s; some of them blatantly casting his involvement in child abuse as fact, far worse that what has transpired since; why didn’t he act on those responsible back then?
There were insinuations about his relative “Jimmie” McAlpine who lived near one of the North Wales children’s homes. He is dead now, but as Lord McAlpine wants to clear his family name – why wasn’t action taken?
The key to this is that had Lord McAlpine taken action earlier, this gossip would not have implicated him or his family when the public were looking for “Senior Tory Paedophiles” following Tom Watson’s initial parliament question on further investigation of “A Paedophile ring with links to 10 Downing Street”.
As there were lots of stories, including an in-depth article from “Scallywag” magazine, now defunct, naming Lord McAlpine and his cousin; we can see this is how his name got into the frame as a “key suspect”.
It also puzzles me that people were twittering about Lord McAlpine before the initial Newsnight programme was actually aired. I expect it was due to the material referred to above.
For the sake of clarity, I downloaded the programme that had been fined £185,000 for defaming Lord McAlpine. I watched it very carefully and Lord McAlpine was not named. Nor were heavy hints dropped that could lead to Lord McAlpine being wrongly identified with the accusations.
Why did the BBC settle with Lord McAlpine out of court when they HAD NOT defamed him nor contributed to the material already in existence on the web for many years?
Philip Scofield passed a card to David Cameron on TV, containing names of Tory Party members who had been named on the Internet. No names were mentioned. You could not see the names on the card. I have no doubt that Lord McAlpine or simply the McAlpine name was on that list, as anyone who did a quick search online would come across the old material above. But why is only Lord McAlpine filing for defamation as there were clearly others on the (UNSEEN) list. Again, I don’t understand why ITV was fined £125,000 without going to court to defend the fact that they had NOT PUBLICLY named Lord McAlpine or any of the others on the list.
The gossip from the large amount of online material that implicated Lord McAlpine and other members of the McAlpine family, obviously informed those that mentioned his name on Twitter.
THIS IS THE MATERIAL THAT IS AT FAULT – NOT ITV OR BBC. Why isn’t Lord McAlpine taking action against the originators of the defamation, not those that were merely repeating it.
Why are Twitter users being expected to settle out of court?
I’m no lawyer, but even a layperson like myself can find information on UK Defamation Law and I would like to draw people’s attention to the following clauses:
(6) Fair Comment and statements made in good faith
Fair comment on a matter of public interest, arguments made with an honest belief in their soundness on a matter of public interest (such as regarding official acts) are defendable against a defamation claim, even if such arguments are logically unsound; if a reasonable person could honestly entertain such an opinion, the statement is protected.
Statements made in a good faith and reasonable belief that they were true are generally treated the same as true statements; however, the court may inquire into the reasonableness of the belief. The degree of care expected will vary with the nature of the defendant: an ordinary person might safely rely on a single newspaper report, while the newspaper would be expected to carefully check multiple sources.
Could those that named McAlpine on Twitter be said to be making:
A) A fair comment on a matter of public interest?
B) A statement made in good faith and reasonable belief that it was true?
This would have to be tested in a court of law, but it seems that those Twitterer’s may be able to prove a case.
5. Damage to personal reputation
Of course, Lord McAlpine wants to defend his name as he states he is entirely innocent. He also fears that “mud sticks” and that he will always suffer from the distasteful allegations made about him.
May I venture to suggest that MORE damage is being done to Lord McAlpine’s personal reputation in the way his lawyers are going about extracting money from people who HAVE NOT MENTIONED HIS NAME and for threatening to muzzle free comment on social network sites like Twitter.
If I had speculated about Lord McAlpine on Twitter about this case, I would want to go to court because it seems there is more to this than meets the eye and I smell a rat. Free Speech on social networks is important, particularly as our mainstream media owners have both political and business biases that colour their version of the news. We cannot rely on them to give us an even-handed version of the truth or to act in the public interest.
Paradoxically, the Levenson enquiry may muzzle them further so that they would not go near a controversial case like the North Wales Children Home abuse because they might offend people in high places and get sued. I don’t condone phone hacking or paying off corrupt policemen, but I do support gutsy investigative journalism.
I wonder if there is a journalist man or woman enough to investigate WHY the BBC and ITV paid out without a murmur, when the charges were unwarranted and who is responsible for dragging the McAlpine name into the mire originally and why?
I’d like to know. Bet many of you reading this do too.