Legal Top Stories

Libel judge to decide whether Morrissey case can proceed

By | Published on Tuesday 18 October 2011


A High Court judge is today expected to decide whether Morrissey’s libel action against the NME can go to full trial. I hope it does, because the singer himself may well have to testify, as would former NME editor Conor McNicholas and, very possibly, Morrissey’s former manager Merck Mercuriadis and current NME chief Krissi Murison-Hodge, making for quite a fun day in court.

This all relates to an interview Morrissey gave to the NME way back in 2007, in which the singer was quoted complaining about an “immigration explosion” leading to a loss of British identity. The singer claimed his words were misrepresented in the interview, conducted by Tim Jonze, and alleges that the magazine’s then editor, McNicholas, deliberately altered the piece to make it more explosive and, therefore, to bring his flagging magazine more publicity. The interview was widely covered and, Morrissey claims, resulted in reputational damage – to the effect that the singer was deemed a racist – which, he adds, he still suffers from to this day.

In a hearing yesterday to decide whether Morrissey’s case can progress to full trial, NME’s publisher IPC Media presented various arguments as to why the libel action should be dismissed. Not least the fact that, despite announcing he would take legal action shortly after the interview was first published, it actually took the singer three years to do so. During that time, IPC argues, Morrissey continued to record and perform and enjoy much success, proving, the company says, the singer was not harmed by the interview.

According to The Guardian, IPC’s rep Catrin Evans told the court: “The fact that [Morrissey] has spent the three years since March 2008 recording albums, touring, promoting his new work and presumably doing well enough commercially to be able now to contemplate funding this libel claim, shows that his reputation has been unaffected. His fans apparently still love him”. IPC also argues that, having left it so long to act, Morrissey has prevented the defendants from getting a fair trial, because it would rely on journalists and editors recalling conversations and decisions had and made five years ago.

Hundreds of emails and the original transcript of the interview would likely be presented as evidence should the case go to full trial, while the defence is likely to point to Morrissey’s tendency to court controversy in interviews, and the fact that since the 2007 article the singer caused more outrage when, in a Guardian piece, he called the Chinese a “sub-species” because of the country’s record on animal rights.

Morrissey did not attend yesterday’s hearing, but a statement from him was read out in court. McNicholas, who is being sued personally alongside IPC, was in attendance. Judge Michael Tugendhat, the UK’s most senior judge handling media disputes, should decide whether to allow the case to proceed later today.

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