Desmond heading for PCC over Standard's Zeta reporting

Desomnd believes Standard report of verdict utterly twisted the facts

A furious Richard Desmond is gearing up for another fight with arch-rival Associated Newspapers over the reporting by the Evening Standard of the court case between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Hello! magazine.

After two days of meetings with his lawyers this week, Desmond has decided to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about what he claims was inaccurate and misleading reporting by the Standard, which headlined its story last Friday “Zeta-Jones loses her claim for privacy”.

This week a judge decided that the actress had won her case over Hello!’s use of pictures of her wedding on confidentiality grounds but refused to rule on her privacy claims. Desmond’s OK! magazine had clinched the contract for the pictures.

The complaint was being prepared on Tuesday and will be with the PCC before Easter. Desmond insiders say this is evidence of how strongly he feels about “the Standard twisting utterly the facts to suit its own commercial agenda which is hostile to Northern & Shell’s agenda across a whole range of issues, including its tie-up with Hello! magazine, and his new London evening newspaper”.

A spokesman for Northern & Shell, which publishes OK!, said: “The Standard’s report demonstrated the worst kind of interference – possibly from proprietor level – in the straight reporting of news. Its headline and report were inaccurate, misleading to readers and defamatory to OK! magazine. It was obviously driven by an agenda which had nothing to do with the facts of the story. We believe it is a proper matter for investigation by the PCC.”

The battle between Desmond and Lord Rothermere, proprietor of Associated Newspapers, has become a personal vendetta for the owner of Express Newspapers. He is already pursuing through the Office of Fair Trading Associated’s right to hold the sole contract to distribute newspapers – in its case, Metro – on Greater London rail and train stations. He wants to distribute his own London paper in the same way when it launches this summer. However, the OFT inquiry is likely to be lengthy.

The two companies are already involved in legal action over Desmond’s right to call his paper the Evening Mail.

The PCC does not, as a rule, deal with complaints from one newspaper group or journalist against another. Because the whole system is voluntary, it depends on the goodwill of the industry and would put the commission in an awkward position if it were to decide between claims by rival groups.

By Jean Morgan

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