The year that saw the world's richest man buy Twitter also saw a flurry of defamation claims born of social media. Perhaps the most high profile, the 'Wagatha Christie' trial, took centre stage (quite literally) and racked up numerous column inches, culminating in an unequivocal judgment and a punitive costs order.
Pertinently, Spring 2022 also saw the first reading of the much-speculated Online Safety Bill which seeks to further regulate social media giants amongst other platforms.
We relive some of the media law developments which made the headlines in 2022.
February - ZXC v Bloomberg LP
Following the publication of an article in 2016 in which Bloomberg revealed that ZXC was under investigation by a UK Legal Enforcement Body for criminal offences; ZXC sued Bloomberg for misuse of private information, breach of confidence and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. In February, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment in favour of ZXC, finding that, as a starting point, a person under a criminal investigation has a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation.
March - Online Safety Bill
The Online Safety Bill made its parliamentary debut in March. The bill proposes measures to increase the transparency and accountability of hosts of user generated content, namely social media platforms, by imposing requirements to remove illegal content. It is anticipated that where platforms are likely to be accessed by children, hosts will be required to also tackle legal but harmful content such as pornographic material or cyberbullying. Ofcom has been charged with enforcing the legislation, if enacted, with plans to extend their powers to fine companies up to £18 million or 10% of annual global turnover for breaches.
May - Blake & Ors v Fox
In May, the actor Laurence Fox failed to secure the first libel jury trial since the presumption in favour of a jury trial for libel claims was abolished in 2014. The case against Fox arose from a Twitter dispute in which the three claimants called Fox racist after which he called each of them a 'paedophile'.
Fox sought a trial by jury, arguing that the allegations of racism against him heightened the risk of an 'involuntary bias' by any judge and that accordingly, the 'enhanced impartiality' of a jury was required. Mr Fox's application was promptly dismissed with the judge citing proportionality and the imperative of a reasoned judgment amongst other considerations as outweighing any benefit of a jury trial.
June - Banks v Cadwalladr
June saw judgment in Banks v Cadwalladr  EWHC 1417 (QB) handed down in the High Court. The claimant pursued his defamation claim following a statement made by the defendant about him in a 2019 TED Talk, which was subsequently published on the TED website, and a later tweet.
Ms Cadwalladr initially pleaded defences of truth, public interest and, in respect of her comments in the TED talk, limitation, however only Ms Cadwalladr's public interest defence was maintained to trial. Mrs Justice Steyn found that Cadwalladr could rely on the public interest defence in respect of the initial publication but could not do so in respect of the continuing publication after findings by the National Crime Agency that there was no evidence Banks had committed an electoral offence. Fortunately for Ms Cadwalladr, the court found that there was no serious harm attributable to the continuing publication after the NCA statement and the case was dismissed.
Banks has been given permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal on the issue of whether it was right for the court to reconsider the issue of serious harm from the date of the NCA's statement. That appeal will be heard in 2023.
July - Vardy v Rooney
In the height of the summer, judgment was handed down in a case that needs little introduction. The 'Wagatha Christie' trial (Vardy v Rooney  EWHC 2017 (QB)) is the only case in our round up to have spawned both a West End stage and Channel 4 drama adaptation. The 'Wagatha Christie' saga played out on Instagram with Ms Vardy accused of leaking information from Ms Rooney's private account. Ms Rooney successfully defended the libel claim against her, the court finding that the meaning complained of was substantially true.
The adverse inferences drawn by the court as a result of Vardy having deleted WhatsApp messages and her agent having dropped a relevant smartphone in the North Sea were catastrophic for Vardy's claim and caused the court to make a punitive costs order against her.
You can read more about implications of destroying evidence in our article here.
October - Celebrity phone hacking claims
Autumn brought news of several claims issued against Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail. It was widely reported that celebrities including Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley and Prince Harry had launched legal action against the group for alleged phone tapping, payments to police officials for sensitive information, placing of listening devices inside cars and homes, and other invasions of privacy. Notwithstanding Associated Newspapers' vehement denial of the allegations, this is one to watch for 2023.
October - Dyson v Channel 4
In October, the High Court considered as preliminary issues whether a Channel 4 news broadcast concerning the treatment of workers in a Malaysian factory operated by a Dyson manufacturer bore a defamatory meaning which concerned Sir James Dyson and whether it referred by way of intrinsic reference to the corporate claimants, Dyson Technology Limited and Dyson Limited. The court found in the negative on both issues, serving to highlight the need for careful analysis of corporate structures and relevant targeted entities before claims are issued.
November - Riley v Sivier
In November, political blogger Mike Sivier failed to make out his defence of public interest in a claim by Rachel Riley. Riley was awarded £50,000 in damages and was granted an injunction against Mr Sivier. Mr Sivier accused Ms Riley of having conducted a campaign of online abuse and harassment against a teenager who Ms Riley had engaged with on Twitter. Mr Sivier's truth and honest opinion defences were struck out last year and whilst it was held that Sivier's publication was a matter of public interest and that he believed so at the time of publication, the court found that his belief was unreasonable and so the defence failed.
December - Ware v French
At the tail end of the year, the High Court found that a defendant's crowdfunding of their defence had exacerbated the damage caused by their defamatory statement. John Ware, eminent journalist and investigative reporter commenced a libel action against Paddy French in relation to statements made by him in a pamphlet critical of Mr Ware's Panorama episode. After French withdrew his only defence to the claim of truth, and in his absence, the court found in Mr Ware's favour. The court found that statements French had made on his crowdfunding page for his defence costs had 'very seriously exacerbated the damage caused' to Ware, leading the court to award Ware £90,000 in damages.
Hard to say and even harder to define, Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (commonly referred to as SLAPPs) made the government agenda following a string of high-profile cases and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A government consultation commenced in the Spring and was succeeded by a call to action from The Law Society. Advice for legal professionals was also published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in November. Far from bottomed out, we expect SLAPPs to remain at the top of the agenda for media lawyers in 2023.
This article has been co-written by Matthew Gill (Senior Associate) and Aimee Gavin (Trainee Solicitor).