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McLibel Support Campaign
P R E S S . R E L E A S E . 09/01/03
The Story of a Correction
by Dave Morris
If the Guardian, the most 'liberal' of the UK establishment's national daily newspapers, has struggled to report the McLibel case accurately, you can imagine how difficult it has been to get anything half-way sensible or accurate in the rest of the UK media.
On December 3rd 2002 the Guardian published an article in its weekly 'Education' section entitled 'Are consumers getting sick of the Big Mac' . We provided the author with quite a bit of background information about McDonald's, their pernicious influence in schools, and of course about the McLibel case - with full, accurate details of the verdict.
In a fairly wishy-washy piece, the author referred to the case:
' The trial, in 1994, became the longest in British legal history, lasting 314 days. The result was mixed. The McLibel Two as they became known were required to pay damages for libelling McDonald's plus the company's costs; but the judge accepted as 'fair comment' a number of statements condemning McDonald's advertising and business practices. ' etc
We responded the same day, pointing out this contained a number of substantial errors - as indicated below with the corrections in brackets [[[...]]], the last being the most important by far.
' The trial, in 1994 [[]], became the longest in British [[[English]]] legal history, lasting 314 days. The result was mixed. The McLibel Two as they became known were required to pay damages for libelling McDonald's plus the company's costs [[[no costs were applied for or awarded]]]; but the judge accepted as 'fair comment' a number of statements condemning McDonald's advertising and business practices [[[only one statement was accepted as 'fair comment' - the rest of the 5 major defence points accepted were rulings of fact]]]. '
We asked for a correction of the most important point - ie what the High Court actually ruled against McDonald's - in the Guardian's 'daily Corrections' column. After all, many people believe what they read in the press. The column carries 4 or 5 corrections a day, usually dealing with errors in the paper within a week. We explained everything in full and accurate detail, directly quoting the verdicts in 1997 and 1999, stating that this was of great public importance (freedom of speech issue, about a powerful corporation, result of longest ever court case, and one which was currently at the European Court of Human Rights etc).
We waited with baited breath, but despite a load of corrections to many other pieces over the next month (most of them pretty trivial - mis-spellings, techical and grammatical errors etc) there was no McLibel piece. So we started to put some pressure on, seeking the correction, asking for the paper's criteria for agreeing to put one in etc etc.
Eventually a month after the article had appeared we were phoned by the paper to say our request had been passed to their lawyers (always a bad sign). Eventually these highly paid legal experts proposed a correction which included the two additional points we won at the Appeal in 1999, but not the 4 major points we won at the trial in 1997!
More discussions by email and phone followed. To cut a long story short, the paper eventually agreed to put in our original proposed correction almost word for word. However, they said that for 'reasons of space' they would leave out point 6, the point which the Appeal Court ruled was the most damaging of all our victories!... ie. that ‘if one eats enough McDonald’s food, one’s diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease.’ The court had stated that this last finding ‘must have a serious effect on their trading reputation since it goes to the very business in which they are engaged. In our judgment, it must have a greater impact on the [McDonald’s] reputation than any other of the charges that the trial judge had found to be true’. Despite our proposal being 122 words and their's being 142 words, we were just glad it was scheduled to go in, so we gave the go ahead....
So...... the correction, finally printed on 9th January 2002, reads:
' In an article 'Are consumers getting sick of the Big Mac?' we said that the 'McLibel 2' were ordered to pay McDonald's costs at the end of the libel trial brought against them by the company. In fact no order for costs were made and neither party applied for costs. We also said that the judge 'accepted as fair comment' a number of statements condemning McDonald's advertising and business practices. In fact he accepted it was true to say that McDonald's marketing had "pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food did not match"; that they "exploit children" with their marketing; were "culpably responsible for animal cruelty"; and paid low wages. The court of appeal upheld this and also ruled that it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide "do badly in terms of pay and conditions". '
There was a double page article in The Guardian on the same day, 9th January. It was about the mass consumption of fizzy drinks (especially among children), the controversy of constant marketing of junk food to children, growing obesity and food companies' efforts to infiltrate and undermine the influence of the World Health Organisation. The penultimate paragraph reads:
' Perhaps more likely than anything else to concentrate food industry
minds is the spectre in the US of the courts. Two teenage boys have just
filed a suit blaming McDonald's for their obesity. Most observers doubt
whether they can win, but the idustry does not want another McLibel. They
do not want the massive disclosure of internal company documents concerning
food, health, power and influence. '