Britain’s Telegraph ordered to pay $100,000 over book review

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The Daily Telegraph’s parent company was ordered Tuesday to pay more than $100,000 in damages over a book review. The British newspaper lost a lawsuit for libel and malicious falsehood in the high court.

The book in question was Sarah Thornton’s ‘Seven Days in the Art World.’ Thornton, a Canadian who moved to England more than two decades ago, has a PhD in sociology and writes regularly about contemporary art for the Economist. ‘Seven Days in the Art World,’ an L.A. Times bestseller, was billed as ‘an unconventional ethnography’ of artists and the art business, and included a list of 250 people Thornton had interviewed to tell the broad-ranging story.


The Telegraph’s reviewer, Lynn Barber, was one of those people. But in her review, she wrote that she had not been interviewed by Thornton.

‘Thornton claims her book is based on hour-long interviews with more than 250 people. I would have taken this on trust, except that my eye flicked down the list of her 250 interviewees and practically fell out of its socket when it hit the name Lynn Barber. I gave her an interview? Surely I would have noticed?’

Apparently not. Thornton was able to prove that she had conducted a 30 minute phone interview with Barber two years before -- but it wasn’t easy. ‘It’s shocking that I would have to find lawyers to work for me for free -- and to wait ten months -- for a powerful national newspaper to correct factual errors that were seriously damaging to my reputation as a journalist and scholar,’ Thornton told the art blog artdesigncafe in 2009, after the Telegraph issued an apology.

In Tuesday’s judgment, the judge wrote that Barber knew her claim of not being interviewed to be false. He also wrote, ‘The interview allegation does not relate merely to professional practice. It is an attack on Dr Thornton’s honesty. I accept Dr Thornton’s view that there could hardly be more serious an allegation to make against someone in her profession.’ Barber’s review also accused Thornton of giving her interview subjects ‘copy approval,’ which the court ruled was libelous.

Barber, a longtime journalist and well-known interviewer, had served as a judge for the Turner Prize, one of the most prestigious in the art world. Lynn Barber’s work may not be as well known in the U.S. as it is in Britain, but her story is. Her memoir ‘An Education’ was made into the Oscar-nominated film starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard.

The Telegraph Media Group said it was ‘dismayed’ by the judgment and plans to appeal.


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