Reynolds Privilege protects Times Newspaper in Libel case.

Yeo v Times Newspapers Ltd [2017] E.M.L.R. 1.

The claimant was a Member of Parliament who was approached by a journalist posing as a representative of a consultancy firm. The journalist filmed a meeting which appeared to show the claimant agreeing to push for new laws to benefit the business of a client for a fee of £7,000 a day and, approach ministers, civil servants and MPs to promote a private agenda in return for cash.

Articles were published which stated that the claimant had acted scandalously, and shown himself willing to abuse his position in Parliament to further his own financial and business interests in preference to the public interest, which was also a breach of the rules of the House of Commons.

The claimant issued proceedings against the publisher of the newspaper for Libel, and the newspaper relied on the defence of Reynolds privilege, and justification and honest comment.

Reynolds Privilege offered a test to confirm whether the newspaper is bound by privilege or not. The test considered (1) the level of seriousness of the allegation (2) the type of information (3) the source (4) verification attempts (5) status of the information (6) urgency (7) whether any attempt to obtain comment from the claimant had been made (8) whether both sides of the story were included in the publication (9) the tone of the published material, and (10) the background to, and timing of, the publication. Protection of free speech underpinned all those considerations, which were not exhaustive, and generally a refusal to identify sources would not result in any adverse inference being drawn.

It was held, dismissing the claim Reynolds privilege was a defence which protected publication of defamatory matter to the world at large where (a) it was in the public interest that the information should be published and (b) the publisher had acted responsibly in publishing the information. The articles were also substantially true. The claimant had gone to the meeting with the journalists knowing that its purpose was to discuss the prospect of a consultancy, he had shown himself willing in principle to accept substantial payment for that work, he had understood that the work they were asking him to do included advocacy, and he had expressed a willingness, and exhibited a preparedness, to act as a Parliamentary advocate as part of a paid consultancy role in breach of the Code.

It is clear that the judgment establishes a solid defence of undercover journalism and highlights that those who are in the public eye must appreciate that this significantly increases the scope for their actions to be lawfully scrutinised and criticised.

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