The National Enquirer apologized to Britney Spears in its British edition Tuesday for reporting that she was ready to divorce Kevin Federline.
The articles were published June 5 and June 12 under the headlines, “Britney marriage is over!” and “Britney and Kevin: And now their divorce!” Both stories were vaguely sourced to unidentified friends of the couple.
The retraction and apology said National Enquirer officials “now accept that their marriage is not over and they are not getting divorced. These allegations are untrue and we now accept Britney’s position that the statements are without foundation. We apologize for any distress caused.”
A London lawyer representing American Media Inc., the Boca Raton, Fla.-based publisher of the National Enquirer, signed a settlement agreement with Paul Tweed, the Belfast lawyer representing Spears in Britain and Ireland. The settlement requires a published apology, but no cash damages.
Spears pursued a libel action on this side of the Atlantic, rather than in the United States, because British and Irish laws are much more plaintiff-friendly.
The 24-year-old pop princess and Federline, 28, an aspiring rapper, were married in September 2004. They have a 10-month-old son, Preston, and she is pregnant with their second child, due this fall.
“The couple are very satisfied with the Enquirer’s prompt and good-faith response,” Tweed said in a phone interview from Cape Cod, Mass., where he is on vacation. He confirmed the settlement meant the National Enquirer would not be sued, nor be required to publish the apology in the United States.
London lawyer Niri Shan, who represented American Media, declined to comment.
The office of National Enquirer chief executive David Pecker referred The Associated Press to a New York public-relations firm that wasn’t immediately aware of the lawsuit or settlement.
Media lawyers say such cases could become increasingly popular when targeting U.S.-based publications with even a small overseas distribution.
Whereas U.S. libel law requires a celebrity to prove that an article was both false and published maliciously, British and Irish libel law places the burden of proof on the publisher of such material.
The apology and retraction was published Tuesday in the British edition in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and was being published Wednesday in its Republic of Ireland version.