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At the end of news articles in The Guardian I often see the following (quoted in its entirety for context):

This is what we're up against:
Teams of lawyers from the rich and powerful trying to stop us publishing stories they don’t want you to see.
Lobby groups with opaque funding who are determined to undermine facts about the climate emergency and other established science.
Authoritarian states with no regard for the freedom of the press.
Bad actors spreading disinformation online to undermine democracy.

But we have something powerful on our side.
We’ve got you.

The Guardian is funded by readers like you in (your location here) and the only person who decides what we publish is our editor.
If you want to join us in our mission to share independent, global journalism to the world, we’d love to have you on side.
If you can, please support us on a monthly basis. It takes less than a minute to set up, and you can rest assured that you’re making a big impact every single month in support of open, independent journalism. Thank you.

Independent journalism is generally considered an absolutely integral part of democracy, and so if, as the first item seems to suggest, there are "teams of lawyers" trying to stop publication of certain stories, if the stories are political in nature this can be seen as a political act.

But the statement lacks specifics. Is it hype? If it's real, is it political?

Question: Do "teams of lawyers..." try to stop the Guardian from publishing political news stories?


For background; this from Wikipedia's #Newspapers of record by reputation suggests The Guardian is considered to be one (if potentially biased), and so political stories prevented from publication in it may have a lasting effect.

Despite changes in society, newspapers of record by reputation have historically tended to maintain a similar tone, coverage, style, and traditions; many are over a century old and some over two centuries old (e.g., Neue Zürcher Zeitung, The Times, The Guardian, Le Figaro, and The Sydney Morning Herald). Newspapers of record by reputation can be respected for the accuracy and quality of their reporting and still be either ideologically conservative (e.g., The Wall Street Journal and The Telegraph) or ideologically liberal (e.g., The Washington Post and The Guardian).

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    Normally I'd say this question would be better on Skeptics, but the claims are so vague and generic that it's not really answerable there. This just seems like standard newspaper puffery about how they're always fighting the good fight and is not a reference to an actual ongoing incident.
    – Giter
    Commented May 27 at 4:11
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    @Giter that may in fact be the answer. I'll give it 24 hours to go around the globe once; if there's nothing further I'll just delete it.
    – uhoh
    Commented May 27 at 6:31
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    I just did a 10 minute google search for lawsuits against the Guardian. There are a few high profile examples in the UK but I didn't see any targetting the Guardian (or journalists working form them) specifically.
    – quarague
    Commented May 27 at 6:40
  • @quarague I don't know how others would feel, but that would certainly be enough of an answer fo me.
    – uhoh
    Commented May 27 at 6:43
  • @quarague - Three examples of cases against the Guardian are the Paradise papers litigation mentioned by o.m., the Trifigura Case (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RJW_v_Guardian_News_and_Media_Ltd), and Banks vs Cadwallader (although Cadwallader was sued over a TED talk, she was a regular contributor to the Guardian's Sunday sister paper, the Observer, at the time). Commented May 27 at 12:27

2 Answers 2

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Its worth remembering that defamation laws in the UK are different to in other countries. Under English defamation law, a claimant must prove that a libel about them has caused them harm, but they do not have to prove that it was untrue. A defendant may bring a defense of Truth - that is, they may argue that they are innocent of libel because what they said was true, however, they must prove this. Thus, it is often said that in contrast to most cases, in a libel case, the burden on proof is on the defence, rather than the prosecution. This leads an interesting situation where the US refuses to enforce libel findings by English courts.

This makes the UK a common venue for SLAPP cases (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). In a SLAPP cases, a party brings a case against someone, even though they do not think they will win the case if it went to court. However, the gamble is that the defendant will judge that the cost of pursuing the case through the courts would be so high that they would be bankrupted by the process, even if they ended up winning.

This is specifically relevant to the Guardian because other newspapers are often owned by individuals or organizations with very deep pockets, such as the Barclay Brothers, or Rupert Murdoch. They can afford to take on such cases if they are confident they will win (and be awarded costs) in the end. The guardian is owned by a Charitable Trust, and doesn't have such reserves.

A final piece of the picture in terms of UK law is the existence of "super-injunctions". A super-injection is an injunction from the court that not only prevents journalists from reporting something, but also prohibits them from reporting the existence of the injunction. The term was first coined by a Guardian journalist, who reported the existence of such an injunction against them. Obviously, by their very nature, we cannot know how many super-injunctions there are, or who brought them against whom.

There are examples of the cases where people have tried to silence to the Guardian (not neccessarily always incorrectly, although in the majority of the cases, the guardian won the legal case):

  • The Trifigura case where the Trigigura took out a super-injuction against the guardian reporting on a toxic waste dumping incident from one its ships off the Ivory Coast.
  • The paradise papers where the Guardian was sued over the release of papers relating to offshore investments.
  • Noel Clarke cases - Actor Noel Clarke is currently suing the Guardian after it published accusations of sexual misconduct. As of writing this case is awaiting a hearing at the High Court.
  • Cambridge Analytica - The Observer (the Guardian's Sunday sister paper) fought off attempts by Cambridge analytica and Facebook to prevent it from publishing stories by Carole Cadwalladr about their data harvesting attempts.

Thus, I'd say the claim is plausible, but what is unclear is whether this is a out of the ordinary amount of cases. However, because of UK law, its unclear if we'd ever know about all cases.

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    This is general context but why did you not put your three examples from the comment into the answer? Your answer says plausible but unevidenced and your comment provides example evidence.
    – quarague
    Commented May 27 at 12:49
  • Isn't The Guardian owned by Jeff Bezos, who's about as rich as Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the world's big billionaires? Commented May 27 at 19:57
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    @QuittingDueToAntisemitism No, you're thinking of the Washington Post. The Guardian is owned by the Scott Trust.
    – Egor
    Commented May 28 at 5:15
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Correct, but misleading.

Western societies have both the freedom of the press and privacy and libel laws. How they are balanced differs from country to country; the US tends more towards the press while Europe often tends towards privacy. The principles can be found in laws and legal precedents, but they must be applied to each specific case.

  • Any serious newspaper will have inhouse legal departments, law firms on retainer, or both: teams of lawyers. Depending on the viewpoint, these teams either help the newspaper to publish "all the news that's fit to print," no more but also no less, or they try to shield a company which makes money from other people's stories from the legal consequences when the company oversteps the rules.

  • People and organizations who do find themselves in the crosshairs of the media may also get lawyers or law firms: teams of lawyers. Depending on the viewpoint, these teams either try to suppress legitimate news stories which harm their clients, or they protect innocents from exploitation by the news business.

I would call the Paradiese Papers lawsuit an attempt to suppress 'legitimate' news rather than zealous privacy protection, for instance. The Noel Clarke allegiations appear to be more problematical for the Guardian.

The Guardian has a reasonably good reputation, but you need to remember that they point to the other sides' legal teams in the context of a plea for funding. It used to be that newspapers were financed by readers and advertisers, these days media rely or advertisers, paywalls, and donations. So asking for donations is legitimate, but one has to keep in mind that it is a request for money.

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  • Why do you summarize your answer as 'misleading'? In your first example a team of lawyers tried to stop the Guardian from publishing a story (and the story should probably be published anyway). In your second example a team of lawyers tried to stop the Guardian from publishing a story (and was probably correct in doing so). So yes, there are such teams of lawyers, sometimes they have good reason to try to stop the Guardian, sometimes they do not.
    – quarague
    Commented May 27 at 12:45
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    @quarague, because "teams of lawyers are trying to stop us" makes it sound as if that is somehow unusual, outrageous, or unfair. My answer clarifies that lawsuits are an entirely normal part of the business. If the press doesn't get sued, it is too tame.
    – o.m.
    Commented May 27 at 12:48
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    IIRC UK has stringent libel laws so a goodly amount of people may try their at suppressing news articles there. Commented May 27 at 21:56
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    @o.m. "If the press doesn't get sued, it is too tame." This is very helpful for me. What I see now is: "In order to provide you with un-tamed news, our expenses must cover our team of lawyers. You're reading this article for free (except for those ads), but if you can help a bit we'd really appreciate it. It will help us maintain our un-tamed status."
    – uhoh
    Commented May 28 at 1:34

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