Buzzfeed has sought a court order in the US directed at Press Gazette forcing it to disclose confidential journalistic material.
The order has been sought as part of the global media group’s defence of an $11m defamation action brought by Michael Leidig and Central European News over an article headlined: “The King of Bullshit News.”
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A motion filed by Buzzfeed in a New York Court under the 1970 Hague Convention seeks an order in a UK court compelling Press Gazette’s editor, Dominic Ponsford, to provide evidence and documents relating to an article published by Press Gazette on 14 April 2015.
The motion states that Central European News owner Michael Leidig was the source for the news story in question, headlined: “Buzzfeed investigation emails harm business of its ‘main competitor in UK news market’.”
The Press Gazette story outlined how Buzzfeed had written to a number of UK news organisations saying that articles syndicated by CEN “have subsequently been proven false either in part or in their entirety, or contain quotes of questionable provenance”. The Press Gazette piece quoted from a legal letter sent out by CEN denying the claims and also stated that CEN’s business had already been harmed by the allegations.
Shortly after the Press Gazette story was published, Buzzfeed published a 5,000-word investigation headlined: “The King of Bullsh*t News”.
The article described CEN as “one of the Western media’s primary sources of tantalising and attention-grabbing stories”. And it said that these stories are “often inaccurate or downright false”.
In January 2016 Leidig filed a claim in the US for $11m in defamation damages. These include $5m for serious damage to his reputation, $5m for damage to the reputation of CEN and $1m in special damages for specified losses to the business.
The legal motion (which has yet to be approved by a judge) states that Ponsford will be questioned about:
- The research and production of the the 24 April Press Gazette report
- Communications prior and post publication of the article between Press Gazette and Leidig
- The research and publication of an article published on 8 March headlined: “Buzzfeed accused of fishing expedition over request to see ten years of emails from news agency suing it for $11m.”
It also states that Press Gazette’s publisher will be asked to produce documents relating to Ponsford’s communications with Leidig.
The order states that documents are relevant to issues in the case which include: “Leidig’s and CEN’s alleged damages, including the significant amount of business purportedly lost as a result of the claims made in the BuzzFeed Article and their potential to mitigate any alleged damages by publicly challenging those claims in the Press Gazette Article.”
Press Gazette’s editor Dominic Ponsford asked Buzzfeed: “Why is Buzzfeed interested in my emails and any other documents I may hold?
“As a journalistic organisation does it not understand the dangerous ethical territory it is entering here?”
A Buzzfeed spokesperson said: “BuzzFeed is aware of how sensitive such an inquiry would be.
“But given CEN initiated a lawsuit against BuzzFeed, yet failed to disclose the necessary documents, we have had to explore alternative avenues.
“It is worth noting that CEN’s owner Mr. Leidig has already admitted he was a source for the Press Gazette article and BuzzFeed seeks disclosure of only those documents disclosed in the article.”
Media lawyer Mark Stephens, of Howard Kennedy, told Press Gazette: “It is a pretty usual order where evidence is in another jurisdiction and the purpose is to bring evidence to the court to adjudicate between the parties.”