Legal experts have warned of the dangers facing PROs after five
news sources, including the Financial Times, were ordered to reveal the
source of an article.
The case arose following the insertion by an unnamed individual of
inaccurate information into a document prepared for brewing giant
Interbrew, relating to the potential takeover of South African
The document was then leaked to the five defendants - The FT, The
Independent, The Guardian, The Times and Reuters - with the subsequent
articles resulting in a false market for Interbrew and SAB shares.
Interbrew sought an injunction against the news sources ordering them to
hand over the documents, revealing the identity of their source.
In a verdict delivered shortly before Christmas, Mr Justice Lightman
ruled in favour of Interbrew owing to the 'overriding public interest'
in revealing the source due to the source's criminality.
Weber Shandwick Legal MD Jon McLeod, who advised Interbrew during its
acquisition of Bass Breweries in 2001, warned that the judgement showed
that the judiciary would take a very harsh view of acts against the
public interest: 'No-one can presume that any scurrilous or even
unlawful action will be cloaked in the name of journalistic freedom,' he
'No-one is saying that that it was a PR practitioner involved in this
case, however the lessons which can be learned for PROs are that PR is
not about pranks and anyone who thinks they might have any tricks for
their clients up their sleeves must be very careful. It is a salutary
judgement. People would do well to heed the outcome, as it will affect
how they will deal with journalists in the future.' he warned.
However, Cicero Consulting CEO and former lawyer Stephen Lock said that
the judgement was not cause for panic in the PR profession: 'The case
has a very narrow application - PR people doing their jobs honestly have
nothing to fear,' he said.
'The article protecting freedom of expression in the European Convention
on Human Rights is difficult to evade - you need an overriding public
interest to defeat it. Here it was specified that the courts will break
down the rules on protection of sources where the source committed a
criminal offence or when it is so seriously in the public interest,' he
A spokesperson for the FT, which was the lead defendant in the case,
said: 'We are going to appeal this decision, and it will go to court on