Website set to sue Muslim Council over 'made up' slur

A fledgling news website is threatening to sue the Muslim Council of
Britain over allegations that it made up a story — a move which could
create a legal precedent useful to defend the reputations of all
journalists.

And Pink News plans to make use of a no-win,
no-fee legal agreement — the very arrangements which have been slammed
by newspapers, and the judiciary, for having a potentially "chilling
effect" on freedom of speech, because of the way they ramp up legal
fees.

Pink News editor Ben Cohen said: "We just want them
to admit we were right — I don't know why they think we would just make
a story up for the sake of it."

His website reported on 10 April
that it had been told by "policy adviser" to the Muslim Council of
Britain, Muhammed Aziz, that a five-year campaign was underway to
combat homophobia in the British Muslim community.

This story was
widely followed up because it came after comments from MCB leader, Sir
Iqbal Sacranie, on Radio Four in January, when he said he believed
homosexuality was immoral and harmful.

A week after Pink News
reported the MCB's apparent u-turn, MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala
denied that Aziz represented the MCB and told the Islam Channel: "There
is no truth in these quotes.

"Our position is very clear, our
secretary general was nearly prosecuted because we maintain that
homosexual relationships are sinful to Islam."

And in a press release, the MCB condemned the Pink News story as "inaccurate".

Pink News maintains it has proof that Aziz has acted as an official adviser to the MCB and that the quotes from him were accurate.

Cohen
said: "The advice from our lawyers is that it is defamatory to suggest
that a story was fictional. There is some debate at the MCB over
whether Mohammed Aziz represents them — but he is their representative
on the Commission for Racial Equality.

"We are relatively new and
if we have got people saying that we fictionalise stories, it is going
to be very hard for us to establish ourselves."

No-win, no-fee
libel arrangements, also known as conditional fee agreements (CFA),
have come under fire in recent years after claims that they damage
freedom of speech.

The argument put forward by publishers is that
such arrangements often put them in a lose, lose scenario when faced
with a claimant with modest means.

If the claimant wins, the
newspaper faces their libel fees, plus up to 100 per cent uplift to
compensate the claimant's lawyer for the risk of failure.

And if
the newspaper wins, there have been cases where it has still had to pay
hundreds of thousands in costs because the claimant cannot afford to
pay.

However, as the Pink News case shows, smaller publishers who cannot afford legal fees, are free to benefit from CFAs.

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