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Libel cases against media companies fall

The number of libel cases being launched against media companies has fallen, according to new research.

A study released by Reuters Thomson has revealed that, despite the drama of the Leveson Inquiry and worries about overzealous press regulation, fewer people than ever are bringing defamation or libel cases to the courts, reports the Independent.

Only 20 cases against media companies were recorded in 2012-13, a reduction of 58 per cent in 2008-2009 when some 48 trials were heard. Similarly, the number of actions lodged in the High Court dropped by 40 per cent in this time frame.

However, more politicians are using the courts for their legal battles with newspapers and six lawmakers attempted civil litigation against newspaper publications in 2012-13, compared to just three in 2008-09.

But some civil rights activists may be worried by an increase in the number of defamation cases against individuals. 

With blogs, twitter feeds and other forms of social media becoming more popular, people without the traditional platform of a newspaper are finding themselves caught up in expensive legal battles.

Libel lawyer and sectoral expert David Price QC told the Independent that the reduction in libel cases against press companies like News International and the Mirror Group was not due to better practices or a lowered tendency among victims to report defamation, but was borne out of caution.

"Newspapers are under the microscope and that may have led them to be more cautious and more willing to negotiate a settlement," he remarked.

The Daily Telegraph was among recent victims of libel action and the paper's parent group was forced to pay Naomi Campbell compensation damages after claiming the model held an extravagant polo party in India, even though this was not the case.

An increase in the number of businesses bringing libel cases to the courts was also seen, with Thomson Reuters claiming this was caused by an increase in brand protectiveness by companies in the UK market.

By Chris Stevenson