The first Impress Arbitration: A First Hand Account

My thoughts on why Impress is no better than IPSO, and Byline's failure to understand the difference between fiction and fact.

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  1. UPDATE: Impress has got back to me regarding my latest complaint about Byline, arguing that although it meets its criteria for arbitration I haven't sufficiently set out what financial loss I have suffered. Its board had met especially to consider it, so I'm not terribly surprised it isn't going forward given the extreme embarrassment of having to regulate another organisation also funded by Max Mosley. This all despite Byline hyperlinking to a blog written by one Richard Bartholomew, who has a police PIN warning for harassment following threats which were made to my family, in which the latter rubbished the Arbitration judgement and repeated the libel again.
  2. Anyway this blog is about my thoughts on the whole arbitration process, written now that Byline Media has finally paid the libel fine it was ordered to six weeks ago,

    The first thing I want to get across is that in spite of claims, including most recently from Max Mosley, saying Impress is a better regulator than IPSO, it really isn't. I know this because, somewhat uniquely at present, I've won cases with both.

    The much-vaunted arbitration system, in which claimants like me can bring a legal claim against a publisher at no cost, is not in any way reassuring.

    At the height of mine, for example, the arbitrator Mr Clive Thorne, suggested that Byline's CEO Peter Jukes and I might like to negotiate a settlement over a drink in a pub.

    For me it showed a fundamental disregard of what it's like to be libelled by someone and the terrible impact it has on you personally and professionally.

    As I've stated elsewhere, Jukes is an online bully who has now used the Daniel Morgan twitter account (in which he tried to implicate me in a murder 25 years ago when I was still at university in another country), the Byline Media account, and repeatedly his own to blacken my name.

    At various points, he's referred to me as "the disgraced journalist," a "troll, a "coward," and a "nobody."
  3. The fact that I was a hacking victim (he wasn't but claimed an unnamed relative was), and have worked as a respected journalist for 28 years for both the print and broadcast media, counts for nothing to Jukes. You see if I was a tabloid journalist once (even if it is now eight years since I worked on a newspaper) I must be guilt of something!

    His online campaign against me, as the tribunal judgement records at some length, has now gone on for more than four years.

    And judging by his and Byline's response to losing the libel case (just as Jukes himself lost the UK PressGazette an IPSO complaint I brought two years earlier) this isn't going to end anytime soon.

    During an increasingly desperate defence at Impress, he had Alec Owens, a former Information Commissioner employee, access records he had stolen from the ICO when he left its employ in 2005, which had led to his arrest and a raid on his home by Cheshire Police in 2011.

    Jukes told the arbitrator that Owens had passed on ICO records showing I was on blagger Steve Whittamore's contact list from 2003.

    There were no records of my getting him to blag private data (unlike Whittamore invoices showing the names of 125 journalists who had got him to blag private data which were produced from an FOI request a few years ago) or indeed any invoices showing he had ever done any work for me.

    I looked up the Data Protection Act and saw that to leak private data is not only illegal under it, but inducing someone to is an offence as well.

    Impress has, as part of its Recognition Charter from the Government's Press Regulation Panel, to show that it has an investigative arm too, so as not merely be reactive.

    But the official regulator funded by Max Mosley, who coincidentally also helps fund Byline Media, wasn't the least bit interested when I asked it to investigate how Byline and Alec Owens had broken the law. Not even given the irony of ironies here of an organisation which was crowd funding to expose criminal data protection breaches by newspapers now clearly doing the same itself.

    To Jukes the fact, I was on this list, and another Whittamore claimed to have from 2007 (which the arbitrator never allowed me to see), in which I was wrongly described as a crime reporter at the Mail on Sunday and my name misspelt, was incriminating enough.

    His and Byline's view of investigative journalism is what you might call a "no smoke without fire" series of inferences and nudges which, when actually tested, don't stand up to even the mildest scrutiny.

    I knew that from my experience of him at IPSO, when he submitted hundreds of smears and claims about me but none that actually had any verifiable substance.

    This was repeated during the Impress case when Jukes wrote in an email that Byline had "strong evidence"of my using other private eyes besides Steve Whittamore. A few days later Byline wrote how the Daily Mail and the Mail On Sunday had submitted invoices for payments to suppliers to the Leveson Inquiry, claiming this showed the papers had "spent millions of pounds on private eyes."

    Byline then named these companies without checking what they actually did (Google would have answered this for pretty much all of them but I'm honestly not sure Jukes knows how to use it) in a story in which it arbitrarily decided they were engaged in blagging private data.

    I noticed among them one I did use regularly, a pensioner from Sussex, who looked up births, deaths and marriages.

    I waited to see when Byline were going to produce this "damning" evidence for the Arbitration case with me..and waited and waited. It never happened.

    Later when it lost Byline claimed it was "minded to appeal" but then never did. One of its many complaints was that I had been allowed to submit more evidence. In fact, the arbitrator invited both sides to produce whatever they thought was relevant on many occasions. Byline didn't because, I suspect, deep down it knew it wasn't evidence which would stand up to any sort of checking.

    So, for example, in defence of its defamatory tweet that I trolled witnesses to the Leveson Inquiry and Byline Staff all Jukes produced was an excerpt from an email I sent to one Byline writer. When I produced the complete email the arbitrator ruled that he saw nothing remotely threatening about it.

    Byline also complained that it wasn'tgiven an opportunity to cross examine the witnesses I had produced as to the financial impact its libellous tweets had on me.

    But the truth is that what the Arbitration really failed on witness-wise was Mr Thorne not ordering Byline to produce Mr Whittamore. I pointed out that Byline had not even produced a statement from him to confirm that he had given them this so-called 2007 list, and challenged them to get him to specify exactly what he was supposed to have done for me (Byline said in one email that they now accepted he hadn't blagged for me), given I had only spoken to him once 17 years ago, back in 2000 for an electoral roll check. The silence which came back was deafening.

    Returning to Byline's conduct afterwards, the first thing it did was to break the law by publishing that it had been given information showing I was on Whittamore's 2003 list. This is now being investigated by the ICO.
  4. Further Byline has said that my being on this list and one from 2007 incriminates me. How it won't say - as that would be "deja vu" libel again, and besides there's that embarrassing email in which they admitted whatever it might have been it wasn't illegal. Better to stick to its "no smoke without fire" principle I suppose.
  5. It is also £2,500 poorer and has said of a new complaint I have raised with Impress that I have an advantage over them due to my long experience of newspaper law, so I suppose there is hope there on my part that Jukes might finally be seeing that it is a bad idea to harass me.

    Hopefully also he and Byline are seeing that they have to be as accountable as everyone else.

    As for Impress I would say it's being funded by the same person who also funds publishers it regulates is no different than IPSO. In fact my experience of dealing with both is that first and foremost they protect their own. Impress is, in my view, offering nothing new for the public.

    Ends.
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