National Enquirer Issues Apology to Britney Spears for Story on Split With Federline

The U.S.-based National Enquirer published a rare apology and retraction in its British edition Tuesday to pop star Britney Spears, whom the tabloid last month reported was ready to split from husband Kevin Federline.

A London lawyer representing American Media Inc., the Boca Raton, Florida-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.

Celebrity Center: Britney Spears

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 offending 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 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.

It said that 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."

"The couple are very satisfied with the Enquirer's prompt and good-faith response," Tweed said in a telephone interview from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he is on vacation. He confirmed that the settlement meant the National Enquirer would not be sued, nor 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.