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TV executive's #25,000 defamation action fails 'In-house bully' remark not a slur on ex-Scottish Media Group director

A JUDGE has rejected a #25,000 damages claim by a television executive who objected to being described as an in-house bully.

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Lord Cameron said that people in the public eye might have to put up with a bit of rough language or ''unmannerly jests''. The case at the Court of Session was brought by Mr Alistair Moffat, a former director of Scottish Media Group, who claimed he had been defamed by an article in the West Highland Free Press. The paper's diary column ''Clippings from the phrase shed'' described Mr Moffat as ''the Laird o' Coocaddens' in-house bully''. The column criticised the Gaelic soap opera Machair and Mr Moffat - who now edits the Scottish section of the New Statesman - argued that it implied behaviour on his part of a threatening nature intended to cause fear and distress on the part of Scottish Media Group employees. In a written judgment issued yesterday, Lord Cameron said Mr Moffat's counsel, Mrs Anne Paton QC, had referred to the definition of the word ''bully'' as being a person who was a tyrant and a coward and who made himself a terror to the weak. She contended that the word bully introduced by the word ''in-house'' identified Mr Moffat as someone who tyrannised people in a weaker position and gave them a bad time. It was not mere ridicule, and attributed to Mr Moffat a character flaw or vice which no right-minded person would like to have attributed to him. The newspaper denied that it had defamed Mr Moffat and asked the judge to take account of the fact that the article was satirical and lampooning in style. Lord Cameron said that in deciding whether the words in-house bully were capable of being read as an attack on Mr Moffat's character, the test was how it would be regarded by a reasonable and fair-minded reader. The judge added: ''In its context in the article the word 'in-house' in its conjunction with the word 'bully' can only reasonably be read in the same sense as, for instance, the term 'in-house lawyer' would be understood, namely as a person directly employed by the 'Laird o' Coocaddens'. ''That being so I do not consider that the words complained of are capable of bearing the defamatory meaning which Mr Moffat seeks to attribute to them.'' He was a man who had held a position which, on behalf of those who employed him, had brought him into the public notice. ''Indeed, he is described in the pleadings as occupying a position of professional responsibility in the media world,'' said the judge. ''In that respect he may require to suffer what might be described as rough language or unmannerly jests so long as such statements do not attack his private character or reputation or disparage his business reputation or fitness for his office.'' The judge said he did not accept that the article in the West Highland Free Press was attacking Mr Moffat's private character or business reputation, or that the words were capable of being read that way. He dismissed the action.

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