PR-savvy celebrities are turning away from the libel courts, preferring to ‘buy publicity’to cancel out negative press, according to a leading media lawyer.
Mark Stephens said there was a growing feeling among British celebrities that potentially libellous remarks in the press could be ‘put right’without going to court.
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‘They could spend £50k to £100k on me, or £50k to £100k on a great PR man,’he told a Radio Academy law conference in London last week.
‘You can put [remarks] right by buying publicity for yourself and you’re almost guaranteed to get results. If you spend it on a lawyer, no one’s going to give you a guarantee.”
Stephens warned that businessmen were fast overtaking celebrities as the high-profile libel claimants. A number of lawyers are ‘trawling around businessmen”, digging up negative stories in the press that could give grounds to a libel suit.
‘Business is the new showbiz,’he said. ‘Directors are the soap stars of tomorrow. Less well-known, but particularly prominent people are the ones who’ve got the pockets to sue.”
In February, a jury awarded £25,000 damages to an Irish restaurant whose chicken masala was described in The Irish News as ‘so sweet as to be inedible”.
What might be seen as a throwaway comment could be presented as an attack on a businessman’s ability to do his job, opening up the floodgates for a new legal risk to newspapers – corporate libel, Stephens warned.