Mir Shakil-Ur-Rahman v (1) ARY Network Ltd (2) Fayaz Ghafoor [2016] EWHC 3110 (QB), Sir David Eady, 2 December 2016

C brought a claim in libel and harassment. C was the head of the Jang group of companies, the largest media group in Pakistan which also operated in the UK, publishing the highest circulation Urdu newspaper in the UK and operating a TV channel, GEO TV. Since about 2008, C and his family had been based in Dubai.

D1 was a UK company which operated three TV channels (“the UK ARY channels”) in the UK, licensed by Ofcom. The UK ARY channels mostly carry content from ARY channels originating in Pakistan. D2 was the D1’s COO. The two media organisations were commercial rivals, including in relation to Urdu broadcasting in the UK.

C complained that for a year from October 2013 the Ds mounted a campaign against him and sued in respect of defamation (24 TV programmes) and harassment (more than 100 TV programmes). The judge observed that C had been singled out for persistent abuse and ridicule over a year long period. The programmes were addressed to C personally; he was regularly taunted by the presence of an empty chair, suggesting that he was afraid to come and defend himself against any of the allegations; and patronised by the use of the title “Baba Ji”.

An earlier judgment of Haddon-Cave J had found meanings of the programmes complained of, most being variations of treachery and disloyalty towards Pakistan. These allegations were expressed variously through accusations of collusion and conspiracy with foreign powers hostile to Pakistan – notably India and the USA – and anti-Islamic behaviour. Haddon-Cave J also identified which words or passages could be characterised as comment and which as fact. Less than a week before trial, Sir David had struck out defences of justification/truth and of fair comment/honest opinion.

Some programmes were broadcast before the coming into force of the Defamation Act 2013 on 1 January 2014, with its new requirement for a claimant to show serious harm or its likelihood, and some after. Sir David held “without difficulty” that serious harm could be inferred from the gravity of the allegations and the scale of publication.

The Ds did not defend all the programmes. Those for which defences were offered were said, variously, to be defensible on the bases of reply to attack, qualified privilege, lack of serious harm and failure to overcome the Jameel abuse threshold. The Ds did however raise an argument of causation, C having attracted some opprobrium for certain broadcasts on GEO in Pakistan. No withdrawal or apology in respect of any of the programmes had been made at any point.

Sir David rejected all the defences of the programmes defended. Mindful of the need to isolate the harm caused by the programmes complained of from the harm to C’s reputation brought about by GEO’s own broadcasts, he awarded C libel damages of £185,000.

However, Sir David held that the claim in harassment failed because the harassment – though caused by conduct that was “plainly oppressive, unreasonable and unacceptable” – had not been suffered in this jurisdiction.