Why GDPR is a bigger threat to press freedom than libel

Tomorrow's Business

Yesterday’s TB offered the following suggestion: If you want to sue a newspaper for libel, go and lie down for a bit.

That was in the wake of Johnny Depp’s defeat to The Sun over allegations of domestic abuse.

Today the verdicts were even more damaging to Depp’s career. The Times reports: “Hollywood film studios were urged not to offer roles…to Depp….after a judge ruled that the actor was a wife beater.”

It is pretty hard these days for a journalist to lose a libel action (there’s a giant hostage to fortune for you).

On libel you have four defences. 1/ Truth (which is what the Sun used). 2/ Fair comment (for opinion). 3/ Public interest (which has been given much firmer footing since 2018). 4/ Privilege/qualified privilege (speeches in parliament/court records etc). You can use a combination of the four to defend yourself.

Unless you’ve been sloppy, you ought not to lose.

A bigger worry for press freedom might be GDPR.

Could Depp have invoked that privacy regulation to stop the court hearing the contents of emails and phone calls that made him look bad?

If he had, how would the court have treated that request? I think the answer is that we just don’t know. This looks like a real problem for newspapers until we do.

The selling point of English law is that there are centuries of judgments so you can usually take an educated view on risk. For GDPR/privacy there is no real case law on a claim. All we really know is that it is a bad idea to rent a helicopter to cover a police raid of a pop star’s home.

There are important victories to be won here.

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