04 February 2021

“If things go wrong,
the government cannot sue...”

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is now facing another lèse-majesté charge, relating to a television interview he gave to Al Jazeera English broadcast on 29th January. Thanathorn highlighted a hypothetical consequence of the deal between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience to produce coronavirus vaccines in Thailand. He noted that—as Siam Bioscience is a Crown Property Bureau company, and thus ultimately under the King’s prerogative—“if things go wrong, the government cannot sue the owner of the company.”

Thanathorn made similar comments in a Facebook Live video on 18th January, and is facing lèse-majesté and Computer Crime charges as a result. He was also charged under the Computer Crime Act in relation to another Facebook Live video, streamed on 29th June 2018. After his Future Forward Party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court last year, it was rebranded as Move Forward, a progressive movement calling for military reform, which may explain the continuing intimidation of Thanathorn by the authorities.

08 December 2020

“...turning his back on Marines”

The Mail on Sunday
Prince Harry has announced plans to sue The Mail on Sunday for libel. On 25th October, the newspaper published an article by Mark Nicol headlined “Top general accuses Harry of turning his back on Marines”. The story, printed on page 9, alleged that he had not been in contact with the Royal Marines in the past six months.

Harry launched libel proceedings on 27th November, and the article has now been deleted from The Mail on Sunday’s website and removed from other online newspaper archives. Harry and his wife Meghan are also suing the same newspaper for breach of copyright, after it printed a personal letter Meghan wrote to her father.

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18 November 2020

“Thailand is the land of compromise...”

Yesterday saw the return of political violence in Bangkok for the first time in a decade. Anti-government protesters gathered near Sappaya-Sapasathan, the new parliament building on the bank of the Chao Phraya river, which had been surrounded with concrete barricades and razor wire. All afternoon, riot police used water cannon laced with tear gas to prevent the protesters from entering the parliament complex.

In the evening, the protesters breached the barricades, though they were met by a royalist counter-protest. Riot police did not intervene as the royalists, wearing yellow shirts, clashed with the anti-government protesters. Gunshots were fired, and projectiles were thrown by both sides.

This was the third deployment of water cannon by riot police in the past month—after similar anti-government protests at Siam Square on 16th October and near the Grand Palace on 8th November—though the use of live ammunition by royalist counter-protesters marks a significant escalation in the conflict. Another rally will take place this afternoon at Ratchaprasong, the site of a military crackdown on anti-government protesters a decade ago.

On 2nd November, King Maha Vajiralongkorn made his first public comments on the political tensions when Jonathan Miller, a correspondent for the UK’s Channel 4 News, interviewed him during a royal walkabout. (Miller’s scoop was regarded as somewhat audacious by the deferential Thai media.) The King called Thailand “the land of compromise”, though the possibility of negotiations between the govenment and the protesters seems increasingly remote.

13 November 2020

Panorama

The Princess and Panorama
Diana: The Turth Behind the Interview
Diana: The Interview that Shocked the World
The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess
Martin Bashir’s extraordinary Panorama interview with Princess Diana was broadcast on BBC1 on 20th November 1995. Diana’s criticism of Camilla Parker-Bowles provided the key soundbite (“there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”), though her comments about Prince Charles’s accession were even more remarkable. Asked whether their son, William, should succeed the Queen instead of Charles, she replied: “My wish is that my husband finds peace of mind. And from that follows other things, yes.”

Bashir has never explained how he gained Diana’s cooperation. A BBC2 Arena documentary about the programme (The Princess and Panorama, broadcast on 8th November 2005) interviewed everyone involved, except Bashir. (At the time, it was fascinating; in hindsight, it seems like a whitewash.) Recently, the other terrestrial channels—ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5—have all produced new documentaries on the Panorama interview, all of which accuse Bashir of breaching journalistic ethics.

Channel 4’s Diana: The Truth Behind the Interview (broadcast on 21st October) alleged that Bashir commissioned a graphic designer to create fake bank statements, which he used to convince Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, that the security services were spying on her. But this was first reported by The Mail on Sunday as long ago as 1996, and noone with first-hand knowledge of the events took part in the Channel 4 programme.

Channel 5’s Diana: The Interview that Shocked the World (broadcast on 11th October) included a first-hand account from a former BBC executive, Richard Ayre, though it minimised the significance of the fake bank statements. It also featured an anecdote from former BBC governor Richard Eyre, who broke royal protocol by revealing that the Queen described the Panorama interview as a “frightful thing that my daughter-in-law did”.

Ayre also appeared in ITV’s two-part The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess (broadcast on 9th and 10th November), along with Panorama cameraman Tony Poole and Mail on Sunday journalist Nick Fielding. Part one was a familiar recap of Charles and Diana’s marriage (including ‘Camillagate’). In part two, ITV scooped its rivals with the first broadcast interview with the graphic designer who created the fake bank statements, Matt Wiessler.

29 October 2020

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed criminal defamation charges against the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the magazine is also under investigation by Turkish authorities for insulting the President, which is a crime in Turkey though not in France. This week’s issue of Charlie Hebdo, published yesterday, features a lecherous Erdoğan caricature on its cover, shown lifting a Muslim woman’s dress.

Legal action against the magazine is highly unlikely, though the controversy will further increase diplomatic tensions between Turkey and France. Last week, Erdoğan criticised French President Emmanuel Macron, after Macron defended a French school teacher who showed his pupils the Mohammed cartoons recently reprinted by Charlie Hebdo. (The teacher was beheaded in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, near Paris, in a shocking act of terrorism.)

Erdoğan has previously filed charges against the Turkish magazines Cumhuriyet (in 2004 and 2014), Penguen (in 2014), and Nokta (in 2015). He also sued the artist Michael Dickinson over the collages Good Boy and Best in Show. In 2016, Erdoğan sued a German comedian who recited a poem mocking him. (In solidarity with the comedian, his poem was read out in the German parliament, and The Spectator launched an anti-Erdoğan poetry competition that was won by Boris Johnson.)

29 September 2020

Tucker Carlson Tonight

A Manhattan court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of the Southern District Court in New York ruled on 24th September that comments made by Carlson on his Tucker Carlson Tonight show were “merely rhetorical hyperbole” and thus did not meet the standard of ‘actual malice’ required in defamation cases involving public figures.

The lawsuit was filed by Karen McDougal, who received payment of $150,000 from the National Enquirer to prevent her from publicising her alleged affair with Donald Trump. (This and other so-called ‘catch-and-kill’ payments were made by the supermarket tabloid as part of a business arrangement with Trump.) McDougal sued Carlson after he accused her of extortion in an episode of his show broadcast on 10th December 2018.

Carlson did not refer to McDougal by name, though he stated that two women were paid by Trump. (McDougal and Stormy Daniels are the women in question.) Carlson began his discussion of the case by saying: “Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed. Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. Now, that sounds like a classic case of extortion. Yet, for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom.”

In its defence of Carlson, Fox News argued that his comments “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts”, and that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”. This apparent admission that Carlson should not be taken seriously is all the more surprising given that Carlson characterised his remarks as “the facts of the story.”

02 September 2020

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has reprinted several Mohammed cartoons on the cover of this week’s issue. The magazine, published today, features the headline “TOUT ÇA POUR ÇA” (‘all that for this’), in reference to the terrorists who killed a dozen of its editorial staff in 2015.

The trial begins today of fourteen people charged with assisting the killers. The cartoons on today’s cover were first published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, sparking worldwide protests. Charlie Hebdo’s first Mohammed cover, published in 2006, was one of many cartoons created in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, published by magazines and newspapers including Weekendavisen, France Soir, The Guardian, Philadelphia Daily News, Liberation, Het Nieuwsblad, The Daily Tar Heel, Akron Beacon Journal, The Strand, Le Monde, Nana, Gorodskiye Vesti, Adresseavisen, Uke-Adressa, Harper’s, and the International Herald Tribune (in 2006 and 2012).

Charlie Hebdo subsequently published increasingly provocative Mohammed cartoons. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after it released a special edition ‘guest-edited’ by Mohammed. In 2012, it depicted him naked on its back page. In 2013, it created a comic-strip biography titled La Vie de Mahomet, followed by a sequel and an expanded version. In 2014, a cover depicting Mohammed being beheaded led to the 2015 terrorist attack on its offices. A week after the killings, the magazine defiantly printed another Mohammed cover.

The documentaries Je suis Charlie, “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons”, and the BBC’s Bloody Cartoons all discuss Charlie Hebdo and the Mohammed cartoons controversy. The magazine’s 2015 Mohammed cover was reprinted by various newspapers and magazines, and several of its Mohammed caricatures appear in the Japanese book Are You Charlie? (イスラム・ヘイトか、風刺か).

16 August 2020

“They were very abusive...”

Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the opposition Labour Party in the UK, is being sued for libel by pro-Israel activist Richard Millett, after comments Corbyn made in a BBC1 interview with Andrew Marr. Millett had attended a parliamentary meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on 15th January 2013—organised by Corbyn—at which Palestine’s ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, was a guest speaker.

In the interview on The Andrew Marr Show, broadcast on 23rd September 2018, Corbyn accused two attendees of disrupting the PSC meeting: “The two people I referred to had been incredibly disruptive. Indeed, the police wanted to throw them out of the meeting.” Corbyn also claimed that they had accosted Hassassian after his speech: “They were very, very abusive to Manuel. Very abusive.”

On 10th July, a judge determined that Corbyn was “clearly making factual allegations” rather than expressing an opinion. Although Corbyn did not refer to Millett by name, the judge noted that Millett had been named in the media before the interview. The case will now go to trial later this year.

21 April 2020

Kubrick by Kubrick

Kubrick by Kubrick
Grégory Monro’s documentary Kubrick by Kubrick (Kubrick par Kubrick) premiered on the French Arte channel on 12th April. The film is largely comprised of audio clips from Kubrick interviews recorded by Michel Ciment in 1975, 1980, and 1987, and begins with Kubrick’s admission that “I’ve never found it meaningful, or even possible, to talk about film aesthetics in terms of my own films. I also don’t particularly enjoy the interviews.” Most of his thirteen films are covered, with three exceptions (Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, and Lolita).

Much more extensive extracts from Ciment’s recordings were broadcast on French radio in 2011, though the material in the documentary has improved sound quality (thanks to noise reduction). Some extracts also appeared in Making Barry Lyndon. Extended interviews with Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut) and Orson Welles (The Lost Tapes of Orson Welles; This Is Orson Welles) have also been released in audio format.

If your main source material is an audio tape, how can you make a visually appealing documentary film? Monro follows the pattern previously adopted by other documentaries built around audio recordings: as in Marlene and Listen to Me Marlon, a tape recorder plays while the camera prowls around a set. In this case, the set is a recreation of the bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the audio is supplemented with vintage talking-head clips, shown on an old CRT television (just like the TV playing Summer of ’42 in The Shining).

Other Kubrick interview recordings have also been released in recent years. The collector’s edition of The Stanley Kubrick Archives included a CD featuring a 1966 Kubrick interview by Jeremy Bernstein for The New Yorker. A 1987 Kubrick interview by Tim Cahill for Rolling Stone was issued as an episode of The Kubrick Series podcast. Japanese TV producer Jun’ichi Yaoi interviewed Kubrick by telephone in 1980, and VHS video footage of the interview was released online in 2018.

11 March 2020

“WIFE-BEATER DEPP”


The Sun

Johnny Depp is suing The Sun newspaper for defamation, following publication of an article labelling him a wife-beater. The article, the lead story in Dan Wooton’s Bizarre column, appeared on page 22 of the tabloid on 28th April 2018, headlined “HOW CAN JK ROWLING BE ‘GENUINELY HAPPY’ TO CAST WIFE-BEATER DEPP IN FILM?”

In the article, Wooton criticised author J.K. Rowling after she endorsed Depp’s casting in the film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, adapted from one of her novels. Depp has been accused of assaulting his ex-wife Amber Heard, and he filed a libel suit against her after she wrote about domestic abuse in The Washington Post.

The Sun’s print headline did not include the usual scare-quotes around the word ‘wife-beater’. However, the online version omitted the word altogether. The article remains online, though a note has been added, saying that “the article is the subject of legal proceedings.” Depp attended pre-trial hearings at the High Court in London last month, and the trial itself will begin on 23rd March.

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18 January 2020

The Film Photonovel

The Film Photonovel
The Film Photonovel, by Jan Baetens, is the first English-language book on the film photonovel and, indeed, on the photonovel itself. As the author explains, and as the book’s subtitle (A Cultural History of Forgotten Adaptations) suggests, the photonovel is a somewhat neglected medium, and—unlike other ‘lowbrow’ media, such as comics and pulp fiction—has yet to be rediscovered by critics or academics. (Baetens is a notable exception, and his journal articles on the subject are invaluable.)

Photonovels (fotoromanzo in Italian) were first published in Italian and French women’s magazines after World War II. (The closest contemporary equivalent is probably Deidre’s Photo Casebook, a photographic agony-aunt column in the UK tabloid The Sun.) Baetens traces the format back to the Italian magazine Grand Hôtel, whose photorealistic drawings he defines as the “drawn novel” genre. Grand Hôtel soon switched from photorealistic drawings to photographs, giving birth to the photonovel.

Like the photonovel itself, the film photonovel (cineromanzo) subgenre also has antecedents. Baetens cites the Italian film magazine Cinevita, which reproduced film stills accompanied by captions providing each film’s complete dialogue. (In the 1970s, Richard J. Anobile edited a series of books with a similar format, including Psycho; and Stanley Kubrick published his A Clockwork Orange screenplay illustrated with hundreds of frame enlargements.)

The first film photonovels appeared in Italy in the 1950s, and they enjoyed significant popularity until their eventual decline in the 1960s. The most successful title, an adaptation of the 1954 film Ulysses, sold half a million copies at the height of Italy’s ‘peplum’ craze. Baetens provides a history of the film photonovel and a detailed analysis of the format’s layout, imagery, and captions.

02 October 2019

“...a long and disturbing pattern of
behaviour by the British tabloid media”

The Mail on Sunday
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, are suing The Mail on Sunday for breach of copyright, after the newspaper printed extracts from a letter she wrote to her father, Thomas. In a statement released yesterday, Harry said: “This particular legal action hinges on one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behaviour by British tabloid media.”

The Mail on Sunday published the letter on 10th February, in a four-page article written by Caroline Graham. Thomas Markle—who supplied it to the newspaper—has legal ownership of the letter as its recipient, though copyright is retained solely by his daughter, as its writer. Thus, the newspaper was not legally entitled to reproduce it.

The Queen sued another UK tabloid, The Sun, for breach of copyright in 1992, after it published a transcript of her Christmas broadcast two days early. More recently, Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, sued the French magazine Closer for invasion of privacy.

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20 August 2019

The Textening

Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Four American media companies have been fined by the Federal Communications Commission after unauthorised broadcasts of the emergency alert system tone. The tone, which is similar to an SMS notification, can only be broadcast on television or radio in the event of a genuine emergency, and the FCC argued that its use in entertainment shows could lead to “alert fatigue” and public dismissal of genuine emergency alerts, resulting in “a substantial threat to public safety.”

The ABC network received the largest fine, $395,000, as a 3rd October 2018 episode of the late-night comedy show Jimmy Kimmel Live! included a parody of the emergency alert. Its spoof trailer, The Textening, featured nine uses of the alert tone.

AMC was fined $104,000, as it featured the alert in an episode of the horror series The Walking Dead (Omega, broadcast on 17th February). Meruelo Radio received a $67,000 fine, as a spoof alert tone appeared in trailers on its California radio station KDAY on 8th September 2017. Animal Planet was fined $68,000, as an episode of its reality TV series Lone Star Law (Thousand Year Flood, shown on 21st January 2018) also featured the alert tone. In that case, the alert was a genuine emergency message about Hurricane Harvey, though the show was broadcast several months after the storm.

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12 August 2019

100 Must-See Films

100 Must-See Films
On 7th July, the Sunday People newspaper (a UK tabloid) published 100 Must-See Films, an eight-page supplement listing “the top 100 films of all time.” The list, compiled by Karen Rockett, does not include any silent or foreign-language entries.

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28 June 2019

The Nation

The Nation
Today marks the final print edition of The Nation, with a commemorative “FAREWELL EDITION” printed on heavy white paper rather than regular newsprint. The newspaper was launched in 1971 as a rival to the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s other English-language daily, though it will now exist only online. The Nation had already folded its Sunday edition almost exactly a year ago, on 1st July 2018.

Although it had defied the military government after ‘Black May’ in 1992, The Nation became an apologist for the 2006 and 2014 junta administrations. Ironically, in the months before its closure, it regained some of its credibility with a series of liberal editorials. On 29th May, for example, it published a surprisingly bold obituary of Prem Tinsulanonda: “Prem’s legacy will be to inspire military top brass to maintain their strong influence in politics, to the diminishment of democracy in Thailand.”

The transition from print to digital-first has led to declining revenue at many news organisations, as readers and classified advertisers migrate to free online alternatives. Online advertising, dominated by a Google and Facebook duopoly, generates a fraction of the income from print ads, and print circulations are falling. In the UK, The Independent and its Sunday sister paper ended their print editions in 2016.

18 June 2019

“A shell company that’s
a money-laundering front...”

Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith has issued a formal apology to fellow MEP Richard Tice, chairman of the Brexit Party. Tice threatened legal action after Smith accused the Brexit Party of financial crimes, in a live interview with Sky News on 27th May. Smith has also agreed to contribute towards Tice’s legal costs.

In the interview, Smith said: “the only question about the Brexit Party now is which laws they’ve broken and where their campaign finances have come from, and we’ll find that out after the campaign, but they’re a shell company that’s a money-laundering front”. In a statement issued by his solicitors yesterday, Smith withdrew the claim: “I do not have any evidence to support such an allegation. I spoke in the heat of the moment and am happy to set the record straight.”

The Brexit Party, founded by former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, has been criticised by the UK Electoral Commission for its lack of financial transparency. In a report published last week, the EC concluded that the Party’s system of anonymous online fundraising “leaves it open to a high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations”.

14 June 2019

“Why bother with a milkshake when
you could get some battery acid?”

Heresy
UK police are investigating comedian Jo Brand following a comment she made on the BBC Radio 4 programme Heresy. After reports of milkshake being thrown at Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, Brand joked: “Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?” After sustained laughter from the studio audience, she immediately qualified herself: “I’m not gonna do it. It’s purely a fantasy.”

The programme was broadcast on 11th June, though it was deleted from the iPlayer streaming service last night. Brand’s comment was played on Radio 4’s 6pm news bulletin yesterday, and on this morning’s midnight news. It was also played yesterday on Sky News. Scotland Yard announced that they had “received an allegation of incitement to violence” on 13th June.

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13 April 2019

"I consider the allegation...
implausible and improbable"

The Daily Telegraph
Geoffrey Rush has won his libel case against The Daily Telegraph, and has been awarded $850,000 in damages. The newspaper, published in Sydney, alleged in 2017 that Rush had been accused of "inappropriate behaviour" by a colleague at the Sydney Theatre Company. Rush's accuser was Eryn Jean Norvill, who appeared with him in a production of King Lear; she alleged that he had groped her during a preview performance.

In a written judgement issued on 11th April, Justice Michael Wigney concluded that Norvill's claims were baseless, and that Rush was beyond reproach: "I consider the allegation and Ms Novill's [sic] evidence concerning it to be somewhat implausible and improbable. Mr Rush was a dedicated actor and consummate professional." (The judgement begins, somewhat pretentiously, by quoting several lines from the play.)

01 April 2019

"We apologise to Mr Poroshenko
for any distress caused..."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has received a financial settlement from the BBC, after he sued the broadcaster for defamation. In a report by Paul Wood broadcast on 23rd May 2018, BBC News alleged that Poroshenko had paid Michael Cohen $400,000 to secure a meeting with Donald Trump in 2017. (At the time, Cohen was Trump's personal lawyer, though he has since been convicted of election campaign violations and other offences.) In a statement, the BBC said: "We apologise to Mr Poroshenko for any distress caused and have agreed to pay him damages".

11 March 2019

The Washington Post


The Washington Post

Last week, Johnny Depp filed a defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Depp is seeking $50m in damages for an op-ed Heard wrote in The Washington Post on 19th December last year, headlined "A transformative moment for women". In the article, published on page A21, Heard referred to her own experience as an abuse victim: "two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse," though she did not name Depp directly.

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