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Dee v The Telegraph

Written by Ben Evans on 07 May 2010

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A professional tennis player dubbed the "world's worst tennis pro" has lost in a claim against the Telegraph newspaper.

Robert Dee was described as such when he won his first match after 54 consecutive defeats. The Telegraph published two articles, one on the front page and one in the body of the newspaper. Mr Dee only complained about the first article on the basis that it meant that he was "the worst professional tennis player in the wordl".

Lawyers for the Telegraph relied on the well established principle that where an article refers to another article in the same issue then both articles should be read for the purpose of determining the defamatory meaning of the publication. However lawyers for Mr Dee contested that whilst the article on the front page made reference to the "Full Story" being inside "hundreds of thousands of readers - and probably the majority - will have read the front page article without reading the Sports Supplement at all (let alone the piece about the Claimant) and... this reality should be reflected in the Court's approach".

This view was based upon the fact that a large number of people would only see the newspaper in newstands, shops on tv etc and would never have the opportunity to actually read the whole paper.

The Judge's views were that "the key question, is whether the various items under consideration "were sufficiently closely connected as to be regarded as a single publication" - and this is so whether or not the items in the same publication are continuation pages or different items of published material relating to the same subject matter...In this case the front page article was a limited one of a kind known as "the write-off" commonly put on a front page to invite attention to the "full story". There was a very clear cross-reference in the front page article itself in bold type to the "full story" and the reader was told where to find it. There was an obvious and clear link between the two. It would also have been obvious to all readers of the front page article that read alone, it did not constitute or purport to be the full story. In my view, in the light of the clear and close connection between them, the two articles must be read together for the purpose of determining meaning; and the contrary is not arguable."

This judgement has caused something of a stir in the media industry. It seemingly allows newspapers to get away with writing whatever sensationalist and inaccurate headlines to entice readers to purchase their papers and simply include the actual (true) story inside.

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