UK journalist wins £80k damages after being hired ‘to smear’ UAE and Egypt critics

A journalist has been awarded more than £80,000 in damages against a London-based investigative website and its CEO – a press freedom campaigner – after claiming she was duped into joining the organisation only to find out it was a propaganda vehicle for the UAE and Egypt.

Jane Cahane said she was told in her job interview by Mohamed Fahmy, who was imprisoned in Egypt for more than a year for disseminating “false news” in a case that caused a public outcry, that the Investigative Journal (TIJ) was a publication of independent investigative journalism.

But Cahane, who was editor-in-chief between December 2018 and July 2019, said TIJ received funding from the UAE and pursued an agenda intended to further the interests of the Gulf state and Egypt.

In the particulars of her claim, Cahane said Fahmy was “assisted and directed” by representatives or agents of the UAE and, in June 2019, met with the authoritarian Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, under whose regime Fahmy was imprisoned, “to discuss TIJ’s editorial line and content”.

After neither TIJ nor Fahmy presented a defence, a judgment in default, seen by the Guardian, was entered and Cahane was awarded £80,735.92 for fraudulent and/or negligent misrepresentation plus costs.

Sitting at the high court in London, senior master Fontaine said in her written judgment: “This was a particularly difficult and sensitive area relating to journalism and the funding of journalism for purposes that were alleged to be political rather than independent and relates to alleged funding from Middle Eastern sources … the reputation of the claimant as a journalist of integrity was at stake and for her that concern was likely to have been as important as the financial claim that she has made, and that has to be appropriately reflected [in the remedy].”

Fahmy, a Canadian citizen, hit the headlines when he was convicted in Egypt in 2014 alongside two fellow Al Jazeera English journalists, Egyptian national Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste. He was sentenced to seven years in jail for endangering national security and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, despite independent observers saying there was no credible evidence.

Fahmy, who has also worked for CNN, the LA Times and BBC, was awarded a prize by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom during the trial. He was later represented by Amal Clooney and he and his colleagues were all pardoned in 2015. In 2019, he was a speaker at the Foreign Office’s inaugural international media freedom conference in London.

Cahane had previously worked on the travel website Culture Trip and the renewable energy news title Recharge before joining TIJ.

Her particulars of claim said her job description at the TIJ stated she would “work with leading journalists and a team of editors to help create and manage a top-tier, investigative online publication”. But she said the reality was different. “At no time has TIJ covered, nor did the defendants intend TIJ to cover, a wide range of topics and a diversity of viewpoints from an independent and objective standpoint,” the document stated.

“Articles, reports and social media content published by TIJ have focused and focus primarily on aggressively targeting, attacking and smearing those perceived to be opponents of the United Arab Emirates and the Arab Republic of Egypt, including particular countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Iran and particular organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.”

At the time of going to press TIJ’s website was not working. The court heard that the company was going into liquidation, while Companies House says it has not filed accounts due in October last year. The journal and Fahmy are jointly and severally liable for the sums owed to Cahane.

The Guardian attempted to reach Fahmy for comment.

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