Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fund gives murderer financial grant to sue journalists for libel

This story is rich in little ironies, but probably only of interest to journalists.

A while back, a Dutch tycoon got mad about how he had been portrayed in the media. So mad that he set up a EUR1 million fund for the express purpose of donating money to people who want to sue newspapers (etc.) for libel.

Call it an unusual take on philanthropy and standing up for the little guy. I suppose one understands where he was coming from.

The twist: it emerged today that the fund he established gave money to a questionable figure. Namely, Volkert van der Graaf, the animal rights activist convicted of murdering Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. Van der Graaf wanted to sue De Telegraaf (Dutch) for besmirching his good name.

What good name does a convicted murderer have to protect, you ask?

Well, suffice it to say that he won his libel case.
Before Volkert van der Graaf began murdering politicians, he was a skilled litigator (though not a lawyer).

De Telegraaf had suggested in a story that there might be a link between Van der Graaf and an unsolved murder, that of an opponent of the animal rights movement.

But the court found there wasn't sufficient evidence to back the claim.

Bad Telegraaf!

In any case, Hans Melchers, the tycoon who established the 'Sue A Journalist Fund' is now pissed off that his money is being spent in this way. Unfortunately it appears there's not a lot he can do about it _ he made it an independent fund.

The fund's managers have decided to change its name from "The Hans Melchers Fund" to something stupid (the Jotumfunds), because it really wouldn't be ethical to leave Melchers' name on a fund he established but no longer endorses.

De Telegraaf is painting this as a media war: it says leftist journalists have taken over the fund's board. And they are now giving money to a leftist in order that he sue De Telegraaf, a conservative paper.

I'm not sure if it's that simple, but the whole fracas amuses me enormously.


Just in case anybody is interested, here's the report on the incident that pissed Melchers off in the first place.

I don't think his foundation can sue me for pointing out that the unusual nature of the kidnappers' demand _ for a ransom in cocaine _ was what led the media to libel Melchers. It was easy for the press to make the _ libellous _ slip that this meant the kidnappers had some reason to think Melchers might be able to provide a ransom in cocaine.


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