Byline Media facing legal action from journalist for recovery of £2,500 libel damages awarded by Impress arbitrator

Legal action to force payment of £2,500 in libel damages has begun against Byline Media just after a month after it was ordered to make the payment to freelance journalist Dennis Rice.

The crowdfunding and online media platform, which is a member of Royal Charter-backed regulator Impress, was found to have defamed freelance TV producer Dennis Rice in a Twitter message posted on its official account in March.

Rice opted to go to arbitration rather than have his case decided by the Impress complaints committee and was awarded the damages on 6 July, but said he is still waiting to receive any payment.

Rice told Press Gazette he had applied for an enforcement order at Oxford Combined Courts which, once granted, would give him the power to send in bailiffs to recover the money.

He said he would charge “all bailiff costs plus interest” to Byline and its directors.

Press reform campaigner Max Mosley is a shareholder in Byline Media.

Impress itself is almost entirely funded by £3.8m provided indirectly by Max Mosley’s family charity.

Said Rice: “What I find particularly disappointing is that after all the talk of this being a straightforward low-cost arbitration scheme I am left having to fork out for County Court costs and bailiffs before I can get my money back.

“And if Byline, which is also funded by Mr Mosley, refuses to pay – who else is going to?

“Impress has told me they would be taking action against Byline after 30 days is up but that they can’t tell me what, as that is between them and Byline. That isn’t open and transparent at all.”

Rice said Byline “should be expelled” from Impress as a result of the non-payment, adding: “You can’t have someone signing up to a regulator and ignoring its rules of membership, then ignoring the binding arbitration it signed up to.”

Byline chief executive Peter Jukes told Press Gazette the publisher was still “minded to appeal”, but added: “In a landscape where we are pioneers in this process, we are still exploring our options to challenge this judgment.”

He said Impress had given Byline until 14 August to “clarify” its position regarding the libel damages payment.

An Impress spokesperson told Press Gazette: “All publishers agree to be bound by the terms of the Regulatory Scheme Agreement with Impress, and to be regulated by Impress in accordance with the Regulatory Scheme and the Arbitration Scheme.

“This agreement clearly extends to any arbitration award made under the Scheme. Impress closely monitors publishers compliance with our Regulatory Scheme.”

Under the Royal Charter, Impress must offer claimants a free libel complaints arbitration scheme.

Rice noted that under section 70(3) of the Arbitration Act 1996 a challenge to an award must be brought within 28 days of the date of the award. If the time limit is missed, the arbitrator has a discretion to extend time.