Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Newswipegate: NOTW vs Starsuckers vs BBC


Back in October Max Clifford tried to injunct Starsuckers just before the release, using everyones favourite law firm, Carter Ruck. We told them to get rucked, and the film was released uncut. (Private Eye piece here)

At the same time, Lawyers acting for the News Of The World were also threatening us with fire and brimstone if we dared release a film that dragged their good name through the gutter. In one week there were three separate teams of lawyers attacking us on behalf of the News of the World and their journalist, ordering us point blank to edit any mention of her and the NOTW from the film.

Ironically, this legal bullying campaign used the very same laws that the NOTW has campaigned against, claiming they restrict free speech. Colin Myler (NOTW editor) and Tom Crone (head of legals for the NOTW) have appeared before parliament and bitterly complained about the repressive libel and defamation laws in the UK. They defended their journalists' right to secretly film the rich and famous, and their decision to "publish and be dammed" without notifying the subjects of their stories. When they discovered that I had secretly filmed their journalist showing a cautious interest in purchasing of medical records, they changed their tune somewhat, and deluged us with calls, emails and letters claiming that she had been libelled, and that we would be sued to hell and back if we released the film with her in it. This rather goes against their professed support of the "Reynolds Defence" (ie Publish and be Dammed), and they have gone on record stating that it should be enshrined in law.

They also demanded to have a full and private screening of the film in our lawyers office prior to release, and to have full and unedited transcripts of the entire recordings of the secret filming. Anyone aware of the methods that the NOTW employs when it turns over the rich and famous (particularly the techniques favoured by Mazher Mahmood aka The Fake Sheikh), would find these demands extremely amusing, as they would never consider giving the same courtesy to the subjects of their stings.

As with Clifford and Carter Ruck, we told them that we would see them in court. We released the film uncut and haven't heard from them since.

A couple of months ago I filmed a piece for Charlie Brookers excellent Newswipe, the intention being to expose the gaping hypocrisy and contradiction of the NOTW's stance. The piece gained even more potency after the NOTW broke the John Terry story, and Tom Crone had been publicly claiming that News International were ruthless defenders of free speech. Brooker's team had specifically asked us to hold back the story of our legal battle, to give Newswipe the exclusive. Last week we were told that the Starsuckers vs NOTW story would definitely be in this weeks final show, neatly coming after the John Terry section.

This afternoon we were told that the piece has been cut, and we have heard from several sources that this is due to the BBC caving in and avoiding a fight with the NOTW.

The irony that a piece about censorship has in itself been censored has not passed us by. I think it's highly unlikely that this has anything to do with Mr Brooker himself, and more the influence of a spinless BBC legal department. To be honest it was fairly naive of us to think they would screen it in the first place, given the controversy averse nature of the beeb in recent times. We should have seen the writing on the wall when they blacked out practically every single face from Adam Curtis' otherwise brilliant short in last weeks show, even though some of the archive was 50 years old and the people on screen would now be blatantly dead. If the BBC are terrified of upsetting the corpse of an unidentifiable policeman from a 1960's newsreel, what hope do we have that they would dare take on Rupert Murdoch. They even blanked out the face of a toy doll.

I have a mountain of the NOTW correspondence, which I have matched with the contradictory public statements by Tom Crone and Colin Myler. It's about 20 pages long so am going to whittle down to something readable, and will post asap.


Anyway onwards and upwards... If anyone in London wants to see Starsuckers (uncut) in the cinema, the Hub in Islington are putting on another screening on the 3rd of March 6.30pm as the February screening has already sold out. I'll be doing a Q&A at the end, and can elaborate further on matters that are unsafe to blog...

The film WILL be going out on DVD uncut in April, alongside a screening of a censored version of the film on More 4. Though I have to say that the Channel Four lawyers are showing considerably more backbone than their BBC counterparts, and hopefully nothing major will be cut - will report back on this when we have agreed the edit.

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