BNP libel defeat lights way for journalists, says Gable

By Roger Pearson and Colin Crummy

The publisher of an anti-fascist magazine that defeated a libel claim brought against it by two members of the British National Party has said the case was a lesson for bigger media groups to stand against extreme right organisations.

Searchlight magazine successfully argued a qualified privilege defence in the High Court on the basis that it was merely reporting the allegations as part of its duty to report an internal split within the BNP, which was in the public interest.

Searchlight publisher Gerry Gable said: "The judgment is very important beyond Searchlight. It says that any journalist, as long as they don't show extreme partiality in one direction or another, can report these things in real detail providing you're saying these are allegations between the two parties.

"I've got a very biased position towards the BNP and I'm certainly not going to be impartial, but the way we reported that was with real impartiality.

"And that's clearly the trick — you restrain yourself from going mad and saying, ‘well they're all a load of violent bastards and what else should you expect'.

"We have moles inside the BNP who fed us very accurate information on events that spun out of the rally."

Brothers Christopher and Barry Roberts lost the libel claim over allegations, published in October 2003, that they threatened to kneecap, torture and kill two fellow party members and their families.

The Roberts, who both stood as parliamentary candidates for the BNP in the last General Election, claimed that the article by Gable also bore the meaning that Christopher had stolen money from a collection organised at a rally, and that he would not return it until he was threatened with the police.

In judgment, Mr Justice Eady backed the magazine and said that there was a social or moral duty on political commentators to provide full impartial coverage of the goings-on in political parties, and any disputes, and there was a legitimate public interest in such information being made available.

He said it was important to recognise that this was not unique to the BNP, but applied across the political spectrum and that what was important was the way in which such a dispute was reported, more than the political stance of the journalist or publisher.

"There is no doubt, for example, that Mr Gable is far from neutral so far as the BNP is concerned, but that does not mean that he is incapable of objective or disinterested reporting," he said.

He continued: "Although, naturally, it may require that any such defence be scrutinised with particular care."

The brothers were ordered to pay Searchlight's legal costs, to be assessed, with an upfront payment of £25,000 due within 28 days.

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