Buzzfeed has withdrawn a New York legal bid to ask Press Gazette to disclose confidential journalistic information under the 1970 Hague Convention.
It sought disclosure from Press Gazette as part of its defence of an $11m defamation action brought by Michael Leidig and Central European News over an article headlined: “The King of Bullshit News.”
It sought an order in a UK court asking 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 stated 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’.”
Press Gazette understands that Buzzfeed’s request for international judicial assistance was rejected because the judge did not feel it would uncover important evidence relevant to the case. The judge in the case also asked Buzzfeed’s lawyers whether they had tried calling Press Gazette to obtain the information they required, to which they replied that they had not.
UPDATE 3/5/2018: Press Gazette understands that the application was not rejected by the judge but effectively put on hold after he said he was “mystified” by it.
Judge Gorenstein said: “I’m very concerned about it because we’re dragging a non party and an entire court system from other country into something and I’m not convinced that doing that is proportional to the needs of this case. So I’m very mystified by this request.”
He also said: “You do everything you can before you bother these people. If you think you have a good case after that I will be happy — I know it takes time but I can’t see doing it on the current record. There’s just too many other sources and it’s not central to your case.”
Buzzfeed’s also said in court: “Buzzfeed is obviously not seeking news-gathering materials nor would they seek to compel them if Mr Ponsford were to say that those are my newsgathering materials.”
The Press Gazette story in question 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 put forward by Buzzfeed stated that Ponsford would be deposed and 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 stated that Press Gazette’s publisher would be asked to produce documents relating to Ponsford’s communications with Leidig.
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.”
Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford said: “I’m still baffled about what Buzzfeed thought they would find by trawling through my emails but relieved that this heavy-handed legal tactic has been rebuffed by the judge.
“We would have resisted any disclosure order seeking access to our emails because of our strongly-held belief that journalists protect their sources. I would have thought this was a principle that Buzzfeed themselves would be more sensitive to.”