Libel victory shows it IS possible for a social media journalist to beat a celebrity

Well-deserved victory: Ash Sarkar (left) has won libel damages from Julie Burchill.

No, I haven’t (yet) won my case against Rachel Riley, sadly. But Ash Sarkar’s victory against Julie Burchill shows that it is possible for writers and broadcasters on the social media, like her and myself, to beat much better-funded celebrities if the evidence supports us.

Of course, Ms Sarkar was the claimant in her own case, while I am the defendant. I do wonder how much difference that may have made to a judge’s assumptions.

And her case hasn’t lasted very long – only a little more than three months, which suggests that the facts were more clear-cut, certainly, than those of my own case have been made out to be.

Here’s Ms Burchill’s statement:

On 13th December 2020 I made statements concerning Ash Sarkar in response to her comment on an article by my friend Rod Liddle. I alleged that Ms Sarkar worshipped the Prophet Muhammad, that she worshipped a paedophile (referring to the Prophet Muhammad), that she was an Islamist, and that she was a hypocrite (the allegations).

Although it was not my intention, I accept that my statements were defamatory of Ms Sarkar and caused her very substantial distress. I wish to make clear on the record that I do not believe, have never believed and never intended to make any allegation that Ms Sarkar is a promoter, supporter and/or sympathiser of Islamists or fundamentalist terrorism or to suggest that Ms Sarkar condones paedophilia in any way. I also now understand that it is blasphemy for a Muslim to worship Prophet Muhammad and I had no basis for stating that Ms Sarkar does so. I accept that there is no truth in any of these allegations, and I recognise that such comment play into Islamophobic tropes and did so in this case.

I also accept that I was wrong to continue to tweet to and about her after that date. I should not have sent these tweets, some of which included racist and misogynist comments regarding Ms Sarkar’s appearance and her sex life. I was also wrong to have “liked” other posts on Facebook and Twitter about her which were offensive, including one which called for her to kill herself, and another which speculated whether she had been a victim of FGM. I regret that I did not pay much attention to them at the time. On reflection, I accept that these “liked” posts included callous and degrading comments about Ms Sarkar and I should not have liked them. I can confirm that I have deleted all my posts and tweets and likes about Ms Sarkar.

I have also now seen messages that were sent to Ms Sarkar following my posts about her which are abhorrent, and I wish to make clear that I do not condone any such messages. I did not know when I published my posts that Ms Sarkar had previously received death threats and other violent threats and abuse, some of which emanated from a far-right conspiracy theory circulated about Ms Sarkar during summer 2020, of which I had not been aware.

I deeply regret having reacted in the way I did. I accept that I should have behaved better. On reflection, I accept that I misjudged the situation, and made statements that simply are not true, which I now want to put right. I also wish to make clear that I accept that Ms Sarkar did not call for my publisher to break ties with me and bears no responsibility for this.

I unreservedly and unconditionally apologise for the hurtful and unacceptable statements I made to and about Ms Sarkar, particularly those concerning her religion and Prophet Muhammad. I have undertaken not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations about her, undertaken not to engage in any course of conduct amounting to harassment of Ms Sarkar, and undertaken not to contact her directly other than for legal reasons.

I have also agreed to pay substantial damages to Ms Sarkar for the distress I caused and her legal costs.

Ms Sarkar’s victory has received support on Twitter:

She commented on it herself, as follows:

She also published an article in The Guardian, part of which states:

Some of the worst abuse I’ve received is either from journalists or the direct consequence of their actions in spreading misinformation about me.

The parallels with my own case, in which Rachel Riley has portrayed herself as the victim of an unreasonable libel perpetrated by me, should be clear to anybody familiar with it.

In fact, the teenage girl Riley exposed to abuse could very easily have written similar words to Ms Sarkar: “Some of the worst abuse I’ve received is either from celebrities or the direct consequence of their actions in spreading misinformation about me.”

Riley responded to a girl’s criticism of her for mischaracterising Owen Jones (and Jeremy Corbyn) as anti-Semitic by presenting the girl as a supporter of anti-Semitism (by being a supporter of Corbyn and his Labour Party).

While she did not directly call on her followers to dogpile the girl (nor did I suggest that she did in the article for which she is suing me), several dogpiles resulted from the series of Twitter threads she wrote about that girl, and this abuse was a direct result of Riley’s decision to publish them.

This can be proved with the answer to a simple question: would this girl have received this abuse if Riley had not published tweets about her? The answer can only be a resounding no.

I published my article, back in 2019, on the basis that it is in the public interest for people to understand the patterns of abuse on the social media; how they happen and who should take responsibility.

Julie Burchill has taken responsibility for the vile abuse that she caused, either directly or indirectly.

Rachel Riley seeks to take huge amounts of money from me by denying having done so, even though many of her actions were exactly the same.

I am not rich. It has always seemed to me that the intention has been to financially ruin me by forcing me to participate in a costly court exercise that I could not afford.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to fend her off for nearly two years with support from thousands of members of the public who have seen the evidence (it is still on Twitter) and drawn their own conclusions.

I am currently being forced to appeal against a High Court decision to strike out my defences against her accusation, because the decision to strike out my defence of publication in the public interest was clearly unsafe – as you can see from the information I have provided, above.

This means I am being forced to spend more money that would be better spent on a trial. Riley doesn’t care. It means I have less money for that purpose and makes her more likely to win by default.

If, having read the details of the abuse Ash Sarkar suffered and the comparison with my own case, you are willing to help me, you are heartily invited to join the thousands who have already supported my case by contributing to my CrowdJustice fund. Please:

Consider making a donation yourself, if you can afford it, via the CrowdJustice page.

Email your friends, asking them to pledge to the CrowdJustice site.

Post a link to Facebook, asking readers to pledge.

On Twitter, tweet in support, quoting the address of the CrowdJustice site.

As I understand it, the Court of Appeal is planning to hear mine on an expedited basis – that is, at a time that suits the court rather than one that is convenient to either or both of the parties involved. This could take place at any time between April 15 and the end of May.

That means there is very little time to raise the thousands more that are needed.

Source: A lesson to right wing journalists as Julie Burchill forced to pay damages to Ash Sarkar – Dorset Eye

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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1 thought on “Libel victory shows it IS possible for a social media journalist to beat a celebrity

  1. G Millward

    “I have also now seen messages that were sent to Ms Sarkar following my posts about her which are abhorrent, and I wish to make clear that I do not condone any such messages.”

    I’d say that this would apply to the claimaint in your case Mike.

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