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The News of the World phone hacking scandal has not only exposed just how far tabloids will go to get the story but how dependent celebrities are on those stories and preceding libel payouts to maintain their (and the showbiz lawyers) lifestyles, 'See You in Court' an entertaining BBC documentary running on Thursday nights examining that rather cynical relationship that all sides involved love to play. The lower down the celebrity pecking order then the more dependent they are on tabloid stories to generate cash, be it ones they feed to the paper or ones written about them, clearly the lines becoming increasingly blurred between the two. Someone like Jordan can only exist in the media spotlight if she plays out her life in front of the media glare and so inevitably her life becomes a play. As long as she can convince young women they can have stardom by doing absolutely nothing with a string of hunky boyfriends she can discard at any time then they will keep idolising her and she getting richer. It would not surprise me if most of the celebs involved in these hacks gave the News of the World their cell numbers and left messages they knew would. We even had this bizarre situation where Imogen Thomas, a Welsh Big Brother contestant, has actually gone to court to 'lift' one of these so-called super injunctions so to reveal her affair with a married premiership footballer, presumably to increase her kiss n tell story cheques.
The series is twelve episodes long and follows a mixture of celebrities, business types and members of the public on their quest to get 'justice' through the libel law over things said and done on their lives by the tabloids or media. First up was the 'Z' in the Z List section of celebrity, Cheryl Gascoigne, ex wife to Britain's favourite madcap footballer Paul Gascoigne. Cheryl chose not to work in Tesco's when they split up but to pursue a celebrity career, which in some way relied on Gaza publicity to keep it going. Cheryl did not change her name when she left Paul as; indeed, Posh won't when she eventually leaves Beck's. The name is the money.
Cheryl's libel claim that we track is for comments made about her reputation by Paul and his family, Cheryl even putting up her house to pay for the very high legal costs she will suffer if she loses and the tabloid doesn't offer to settle out of court. The settling out of court bit seems to be the key here and some would say the intention of the libel, as proven with most cases in this series. These celebrities know how to play the system and are certainly not dumb enough to put their house up to defend some petty comments. We did get to see a 'For Sale' sign on her house but not clear if it was actually on the market for long. This is a woman that clearly doesn't want to work with the people and community she came from and will do what she has to sustain her celebrity lifestyle in London. Her five figure out of court payout from the News of the World and then the same again from another tabloid makes it all worth while.
Second up in the opening episode was the permanent plonker that is Lembik Opik, who, believe it or not, was suing the tabloids for making him 'look like a plonker', the very same man that courted the press over his political career by acting like a plonker (dont sue me Lem!), the oddball even more calculated with the press than even Princess Diana! After Lembik's shock election defeat he feels he needs to cultivate a more serious persona and so attacking the tabloids for continuing the plonker Lembik stories. But the truth is Lembik needs to earn money and this could be an easy buck without having to need to apply to Tesco's with Cheryl. He was sadly not rewarded with compo and the show made him look even worse.
Week two saw the oddball Yuri Geller trying to protect his reputation, claiming he was somehow defamed for connecting him to some recent Michael Jackson stories, 'Jacko', Uri's only way of getting any publicity in recent years, of course. During the trial against the tabloids and CNN, Michael dies, Uri suddenly wishing he hadn't bought the case, now wanting to be connected to Michael in every way. He eventually settles out of court and enjoys his moment in the sun, long since setting on his career. It is unclear if he still has his special powers.
Week three moved away from celebrity and towards religion and sport, two very different fields. A publicity keen extreme sportsman, Richard Donovan, is first up, a man who organises an extreme marathon race on the North Pole for wealthy clients, suing Forbes Magazine for their on location reporter suggesting it was too dangerous, his business halved in the next three years because of that article.
The other case featured was the new charitable trust that now runs the notorious Finsbury Park mosque, who are suing 'Policy Exchange', a government quango for suggesting the mosque was selling extremist literature between 2005-08. The mosque say the accusations were all part of the Muslim demonisation over the last ten years by the government to push their case to encourage the war in Iraq, the police originally suggesting they found chemical weapons suit in the mosque. I certainly have no doubts that most mosques still sell unsavoury religious text but it doesn't lead to terrorism, 95% of all Muslims arrested in the U.K. for terror offences quietly released.
Back in Belfast and Donovan wants the article pulled from the internet and some cash for damages but Forbes are huge and using its legal muscle to exhaust his funds. He is £350,000 down early on over the loss to his business and his plan to use Forbes to publicize his unique business just didn't work out. But Donovan got lucky with the judgment and bagged £140 grand to cover costs, but Forbes refusing to publish an apology or take down the article.
For the mosque the Policy Exchange tried to apply a legal technicality to bat the mosque claim out of court. They are successful, the mosque landed with a 100k bill, exposing were the British establishment still stand on Muslims in the UK. The appeal will cost even more and a minor clarification of the original report is the only offer on the table. They take it and the Policy Forum refuse to apologise and the damage done to the mosque. Maybe the mosque was expecting a payout as it would have been better to forget about it, the best way to kill bad publicity.
So far it's been enjoyable and entertaining stuff on just how exploited the libel system is in the U.K, a magnet from all around the world to sue for libel as the payouts are so big. Its no surprise a distinct type of person sues for libel and it's also clear the newspapers play a similar game. The lawyers never lose. I'm sure the celebs will enjoy taking down the News of the World but they forget how useful the tabloids can be when the work dries up. A quote can go around the world in minutes on the internet and that's the game now and online newspapers and gossip sites are the source of their publicity and riches.
Some of the libel cases seem incredibly petty and clearly about getting the papers to settle out of court than over any real hurt caused. I did feel sorry for Jordan when that moron of a Scottish comedian made terrible comments about her blind child but most of the time the libel cases are nonsense. This series really goes into that greedy dynamic and its great fun reading the faces of the celebs when they say they are not doing it for the money and then lick their lips when they are offered six figure sums to settle out of court. Who knew Cheryl Gascoigne had a reputation? If they go on a show like this you know its going to be more intelligent than previous work and so it is all about the nuance. It subtlety gives the celebrities enough rope to hang themselves in front of an erudite late night audience and yet they go away satisfied as they have been on an intelligent documentary.
Thursday nights on BBC1 at 10:30pm...