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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Ulrika, the accused and trial by media
Ulrika Jonsson poses for photographers in London
In the focus: Ulrika Jonsson and allegations
Are media organisations upholding the law by publishing the name of a man alleged to have raped Ulrika Jonsson. Or is it all about selling papers?
The controversy over the naming of a celebrity who allegedly raped television presenter Ulrika Jonsson has become one of those stories where the accusation of "trial by media" has again surfaced.

The conduct of the media in such cases has been in the spotlight since the killing of Soham school girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman earlier this year.


It's quite extraordinary. If there was ever a case for stone cold libel, this is it

Bill Norris, Presswise
As soon as arrests were made, a host of newspapers investigated the backgrounds of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr, the pair eventually charged in connection with the deaths.

The frenzy was such that the Attorney General eventually warned of the dangers of prejudicing a trial.

Media ethics campaigners Presswise see similar "trial by media" similarities between the Soham case and the current reporting of the Ulrika man.

On Wednesday, the man's name became public when Channel 5's The Wright Stuff inadvertently named the man.

The London Evening Standard's executives debated with their lawyers what they could report and decided to follow up.

"The attitude seemed to be the Standard didn't have much to lose because Channel 5 had already named him," said an insider.

"If they didn't go with it now, they knew all the morning papers would."
National newspapers with Ulrika Jonsson on the cover
Frenzy: Battle over Ulrika story
So the newspaper splashed the man's name and picture on its front page, emphasising that he had been named by Channel 5.

Thursday morning saw all the tabloids plus one broadsheet run the story, some detailing allegations from other women.

Sky News, followed by ITN, brought his name to television viewers. But it doesn't end there.

At least one spoof picture of the accused man is doing the office e-mail circuit, the content of the message bitingly describing his downfall.

Furthermore, the Channel 4 celebrity chatshow, V Graham Norton, briefly displayed a picture of the man without mentioning the case. It provoked ironic boos from the audience.

Competitive pressures

Max Clifford, the publicist, says he has spoken to the man and recommended he should go public with a statement because he has no control over the story until he does.

National media not naming Ulrika accused:
BBC
Financial Times
Daily Telegraph
The Independent
The Guardian has named the man but not repeated the allegations
But Bill Norris, associate director of Presswise, said the case was a classic example of the potential damage to justice and reputation when there's a feeding frenzy in a hugely competitive business.

"It's quite extraordinary," said Mr Norris.

"If there was ever a case for stone cold libel, this is it.

"But if a story like this breaks [in one paper], the others have to take a very deep breath and decide if they run it or not."

Day-to-day cases

Mr Norris said trial by media does not just happen in nationals.

He recently advised a man accused of rape by a local newspaper but later cleared by the courts. That man's life was now in tatters, said Mr Norris.

"If [the Ulrika case] eventually comes to the courts, his lawyers will argue that the evidence has been tainted," said Mr Norris.

"If you believe in a system of justice in this country, we should not have this kind of thing. It is extremely dangerous."

Legal quagmire

Tom Welsh, editor of Media Lawyer and co-editor of the legal textbook found in every newsroom, said trial by media involved two separate issues - defamation and prejudice of juries.


The assumption is that juries will be swayed by what they read in The Sun ... but judges tend to take a different view that we underestimate juries

Tom Welsh, media law expert
"If you say someone committed rape you have to prove it," said Mr Welsh.

"If you say someone is accused of rape and is being investigated, that will convey the defamatory meaning that he is under suspicion and there are reasonable grounds for suspicion."

But Mr Welsh said that the critical factor is whether or not the media had covered their backs by getting an official statement from the police saying someone is under investigation. This had not happened in the Ulrika case.

"I think the newspapers are on very dodgy ground here," he warned.

But he added fears of influencing juries are not necessarily well founded.

Senior judges and law lords say the risk of prejudicing a jury is related to how much time passes between a newspaper's allegations and a date of a trial.

"The assumption is that juries will be swayed by what they read in The Sun," said Mr Welsh.

"But judges tend to take a different view that we underestimate juries."

Campaigners say that this isn't good enough.

"If we look at the man in the Ulrika case, this will leave his career in ruins, whether or not he is guilty.

"I have to question the motives of the newspapers in these cases," said Mr Norris.

"Are they genuinely trying to bring people to justice or trying to increase circulation?"

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