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    Friday, 29 January 2010

    BSkyB loses appeal bid

    Last week, BSkyB lost in its appeal to overturn the ruling of the Competition Appeal Tribunal with regard to its obligation to divest a portion of its stake in ITV. A transcript of the ruling can be found here.

    Lords Committee recommends part-privatisation of BBC Worldwide

    The House of Lords Communications Committee chaired by Lord Fowler has published an interesting report on the future of the UK film and television industries on Monday. Entitled The British Film and Television Industries - Decline or Opportunity?, the report is concise, informative and insightful on the history of both sectors, and future possibilities.

    The report makes recommendations in respect of tax relief and credit for the film industry, facilitating private investment, the future of the UK Film Council, camcording in cinemas, and the terms of trade between PSB channels and the independent production sector. The headline recommendation, however, concerned the support for the part prvatisation of BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC) as a means to ensure the fullest exploitation of BBC content and brand opportunities.

    Thursday, 28 January 2010

    Something Rotten in the State of English Libel Law?

    Together with Alastair Mullis of the Norwich Law School, UEA, I've recently written a brief report on libel law entitled Something Rotten in the State of English Libel Law? A Rejoinder to the Clamour of Reform of Defamation.

    The report aims to orient the current debate on reform towards areas where change may prove constructive. There's an associated press release that summarises the report: Incoherent libel reform risks 'death of libel' researchers warn. The report itself can be found here.

    A central criticism is that newspapers - in the UK and the US - have so far allowed their vested interests - consciously or otherwise - to skew the public debate as aired in their pages. We're hopeful that they'll now play ball, and give the report a fair platform (it does after all present a balanced view and recommends further examination of areas in which, if action was ultimately taken, media concerns might be salved). We're not so naive as to hold our breaths while waiting...

    Thursday, 14 January 2010

    Lord Justice Jackson reports on costs review

    Lord Justice Jackson has published a series of recommendations for reform of costs and civil process rules following a lengthy review of civil litigation costs. Mr Justice Ross Cranston, a visiting Professor in the LSE Law Dept, acted as one of a number of assessors on the review.

    The package of reforms is intended to secure access to justice and reduce litigation costs. For example, it suggests that success fees and ATE insurance premiums should no longer be recoverable in conditional fee agreement (CFA) cases; that the general level of damages should be increased by 10% so as to offset the increase risk borne by claimants; a change in cost allocation rules as between the winners and losers in civil actions (claimants would not have to carry the defendant's costs if they lost, whereas defendants would have to carry the claimant's costs if they lost); allowing contingency fee agreements (which would permit lawyers to take up to 25% of damage awards), and establishing a costs council to review basic costs levels on an annual basis. The report also mooted whether there should be an end to jury trials in libel cases.

    Clearly, this all speaks directly to the much-expressed concerns regarding the 'chilling effect' of libel law on journalism in the UK and beyond. Costs have been the key factor in the campaign for libel reform pursued by a number of newspapers and free speech NGOs. Lord Justice Jackson's report makes specific recommendations with respect to libel proceedings (see Ch 32).

    There is a lot here to digest. There has to be a fear, however, that the uncertainty that would be created by changes such as those on costs allocation would be likely to militate against some potential claimants taking the risk of launching actions (1). It may also be that few lawyers would happily assume the risk of bringing actions where clients are relatively impecunious.

    Policy exchange publishes report on BBC / PSB

    The right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange has published a report on the future of PSB / the BBC, gaining much media-coverage (1,2,3,4). The essential theme is that the BBC should pull back from areas of its current range of content delivery so as to leave space for commercial providers. Wider recommendations include the privatisation of Channel 4, the sharing of the licence fee, the dissolution of the BBC Trust to be replaced by a generic PSB regulator, and the lifting of mandatory PSB obligations from other PSB providers (ITV, and Ch 5).