Friday, February 10, 2012

Libel Reform

The court is not supposed to be a place where the rich guy can pay a lawyer to shut the little guy up. Yet, it is. The libel laws in the UK, and by extension, here in Canada AND the US are designed to prevent people from "hurting" another person with a published word. This must be balanced of course with "free speech" and "free press". We have all seen people destroyed by the "court of public opinion", and the libel laws are designed to prevent that.

They usually do exactly that. The Rupert Murdochs of the world need something to keep them on the straight and narrow (as if the fear of a libel suit ever stopped him!) I don't think they are working.

However, what do you do when a reporter or a scientist stands up and says..."you know, that guy over there if taking money fraudulently by stating that his product works and I can show you right here that it does not work at all!" The snake oil salesman who has plenty of cash in his pocket sues the scientist or reporter personally for "loss of business", the amount of the settlement determined by how much money the snake oil salesman "could have made" if somebody had not called him out on it. Interestingly enough, the law does not care who is right...the snake oil salesman really did suffer a "loss" of income, and so therefore really does have a case.
I personally believe that this results in limitation on freedom of speech.

Apparently, such laws are only in England...France, Italy, Greece and other European countries seem to not have such laws on their books....only English speaking countries like Canada, the US, India, and of course, the UK. Not being a lawyer, I don't know about that, but it would not be the first time that the Napoleonic code of law proved superior to English Common Law.

There is a movement afoot which is trying to get the libel laws of English speaking nations reformed so that whistle blowers will not be sued into poverty by people who are content to feed you untested medicine or magnetic bracelets or useless Swiss vitamines. It will also allow people who are fighting the "man" against, say water floridation or flue shots or whatever (very controvercial subjects you have to admit) some protection against lawsuits by men in suits.

Therefore I am publishing a letter from a group supporting Simon Singh (google him) who was fighting a lawsuit which threatened to impoverish him, for simply exercising his right to free speech. Any blogger MUST take this seriously. As a blogger, you are also a publisher. And subject to the law like any publisher.

As usual, your comments are welcome. The links are to UK sites. But don't think for a moment that the problem is confined to the UK. When the great magician James Randi called out the spoon bender Uri Geller, proved he was a fraud, Randi ended up losing a fortune in legal fees EVEN THOUGH HE WAS RIGHT. Lawyers cost a LOT of money. That happened right in the US. (google Randi, lawsuit).

This goes along with my previous post about clear thinking. A different facet to the jewel of crystal clear thought.

So what can you do? Well, to begin with, familiarize yourself with the facts, the problem. Spend a few minutes on the internet to find out if it is a problem where you are. Determine if an action plan is actually needed. And be prepared to write a letter if you think it could be an issue in your jurisdiction.

Dear Friends

Firstly, thank you to the over 3,000 of you who wrote to your MPs over Christmas urging them to get libel reform into the next Queen’s Speech. If you haven’t already, you can still write to your MP here

The next step towards libel reform is the Government’s report on the draft Defamation Bill, which we have been told to expect any day now.

This report is the Government’s response to scrutiny of the draft Bill by MPs and Peers and its response to the public consultation many of you took part in last Summer. The Government will publish a new Defamation Bill if libel reform is in the Queen’s Speech in May; this report is important because it will set out the Government’s thinking on what should be in a Bill.

As you know, we urged the Government to strengthen the draft Bill to protect NGOs, scientists, bloggers and authors writing in the public interest; to introduce a strict test to ensure that bullying libel claims get thrown out early; to tackle the problem of corporations using the laws to silence criticism and to bring the law up to date for the internet age. If the Government’s report doesn’t go far enough on these issues, we will have to take action.

We will be in touch again soon when we know more. Please do continue to get friends to sign up to the campaign and help us by donating here



Middle Child said...

Thanks for this - its just the same here - you are right seems to be English speaking or influenced matter how right you are here you have to consider very seriously before taking on those with more money

STAG said...

Doesn't matter whether you are right or wrong MC, if somebody is "hurt" by it they can sue you for their damages. Their "hurt" may be that they lost some sales of chemicals to your local council. It does not matter that it is bad for you, they were hurt by your actions. So the law says they can sue you. It is time to change this.
...I know your fight is against floridation of water. If you want to continue that fight, then it may be worth your trouble to look into this.