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Thursday, April 06, 2006 

Victory for press freedom, bloggers and George Galloway: News International doesn't appeal against Mr Justice Mitting's verdict.

Click above for larger version, or:
Victory PDF.

There is very little like the sweet taste of victory, especially when faced by the behemoth that is News International. Today News International told its lawyers not to contest yesterday's decision by Mr Justice Mitting to allow the distribution of the photographs of Mr Mahmood, one of which is from a passport, and the other which shows him in flowing robes, both of which can now be seen above.

The last thing that I expected when I wrote last week's post on Galloway's encounter with the fake sheikh was that I would be sent an injunction by Farrer & Co, who represent the royal family as well as Mr Mahmood. I discovered the photograph of Mahmood on an Albanian news website which has a co.uk address. Both of the pages with photographs of Mahmood have now been removed. Late on Tuesday night I checked my email and discovered the injunction, which can be seen a couple of posts down. I immediately removed Mahmood's photograph, even though this site is located in the United States and likely out of the reach of UK law. The last thing that a poor blogger such as myself needs is a lawsuit hanging over his head.

I then contacted George Galloway's website, and the Respect coalition, looking for support. I spoke to a woman who works on Galloway's website, who informed me that one of the photographs Galloway was distributing, the one from the passport, was taken by her from Obsolete and handed to George. Whether this is true or not I am unsure of, as other blogs had also published the same photograph of Mahmood. Either way, this came as a surprise.

The real heroes here were those bloggers who defied the injunction and published the photographs of Mahmood yesterday. Those who seek to intimidate are facing increasing problems in the age of new media. There are many out there who will not be cowed by big law firms, or the likes of News International. They deserve our support more than anyone or anything else. Bloggerheads, Lenin's Tomb, Guido, Curious Hamster and many others, including those who edited the Mahmood entry at Wikipedia, and who signed the pledge at PledgeBank should be very proud of themselves, and I really mean that. Guido has a full list here.

I will not be claiming expenses from Farrer & Co, which Guido seems to think those who received the injunction may be entitled to, as I think the actions of Farrer and their clients have resulted in more publicity for this blog than I could ever have imagined. I will end this post with the letter I just sent to Farrer & Co. Once again, thank you to everybody who defied the order, supported me and the freedom of the press, while News International claimed that Mahmood's life was in danger.

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for the confirmation that the injunction has ended. I hope that this is the end of the matter.

If I may, I would just like to highlight how badly the actions of yourselves and your client have backfired. My website had been averaging around 60 unique hits per day. Yesterday, following the injunction against myself and other bloggers, as well George Galloway, the site received 841 unique hits, which does not account for those who returned during the day as the case against George Galloway progressed. My website was also today mentioned in the Guardian report of the hearing.

While I, fearing legal action from yourselves removed the photograph of your client from my site, other bloggers defied the intimidation of the News of the World and Mahzer Mahmood and published his photograph in reaction to News International's attack on the freedom of the press. As a result of your actions and the attitude of your client, his photograph is now even more in the public domain than it would have been had you realised the likely consequences of your actions.

My reasons for publishing the photograph of your client in the first place are thus. This was not about supporting George Galloway; this was about exposing the hypocrisy of a man who craves privacy but who has denied it to the victims of his exposes. Allegations made by such mainstream journalists as Roy Greenslade, that your client was involved in the entrapment of the gang who were set-up to be apparently trying to kidnap Victoria Beckham, suggests that he and his newspaper have ruined the lives of men and women who have done very little to absolutely nothing wrong, let alone anything illegal. For your client then to attack the freedom of websites such as mine to publish his photograph, which was already easily available on the internet, is an outrageous attempt to intimidate critics into silence.

Even more alarming is that your client was seemingly attempting to corrupt politicians, in a supposed expose on the party funding scandal which is currently engulfing both the Labour and Conservative parties. When he is exposed as doing so, he resorts to the law to protect photographs of himself, which themselves are old, from being published by the mainstream media. His attitude to press freedom is one which is typical of the rich and powerful; he will use it against the greedy and corrupt when it means that his newspaper will sell more copies, yet when he feels threatened by it he resorts to the likes of yourselves to intimidate his critics. I'm sure that you can appreciate the hypocrisy of his position. That he also seemed to be targeting politicians who opposed the Iraq war, which News International newspapers were vehemently in favour of, seems to show that your clients were out to smear all opponents of that conflict at best as hypocritical, and at worse corrupt.

I will be watching the News of the World this weekend very carefully for any reaction to this week's events, as I'm sure other bloggers and George Galloway will be as well. Any attempt by your clients to slur, smear or perform hatchet jobs on those who you tried to gag will I'm sure be met by bitter resistance.

As the injunction has now expired, I will be publishing the photographs of your client on to my website again shortly. If you have any objections to this, I suggest that you contact me immediately.

Obsolete writer.

Edit: I'm still spelling injunction wrong. Someone kick me up the ass.

Update: Lenin has written a fantastic breakdown of the ruling, showing just how utterly the News of the Screws case was destroyed.

Update 2: Stephen Brook, who wrote the articles about the court decision for Media Guardian, is incredibly angry about the arguments which the Screws used in its attempt to stop Galloway and bloggers from using the photographs of Mahmood. It seems like this whole misjudged attack on the freedom of the press by the newspaper which infringes the privacy of others the most is going to come back to haunt it. Finally, the Screws is getting its just desserts.

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You did good work. It is much easier for me to be brave - I don't give a fuck - and I have arranged my affairs in such a way that it is very difficult to attack me through the British courts.

Remember, readers should not be afraid of their newspapers, journalists should be afraid of their readers.

Nice one...saw the piece in The Guardian today....victory over Murdoch AND free publicity....it doesn't get better than that!!!

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