Tuesday, 24 November 2009

'Libel reform needs more than cosmetic surgery'

Index on Censorship has welcomed Justice Secretary Jack Straw's pledge in the Sunday Times to reform the libel laws but says the changes must be more than just "cosmetic surgery".
Straw's commitment to change follows the joint investigation into the libel laws by Index and English Pen which produced the report Free Speech is Not For Sale.
Among the reports recommendations are: Capping libel damages at £10,000 and making an apology the chief remedy; Shifting the burden of proof so claimants have to demonstrate damage; Preventing cases from being heard in London unless 10% of copies of the offending publication are circulated in England.
Responding to Straw, Jo Glanville writing on the Index on Censorship website had warned: "Cosmetic surgery will not be sufficient. What’s required now is reform that addresses the chilling effect of libel on every level. English libel law is based on a 19th century model of communication.
"It predates the revolution in mass communication, never mind the advent of the internet. It therefore needs to catch up fast. As things stand, libel law hampers the free flow of information. American publishers have already begun to stop circulating their publications in the UK. It is also slowing down communication online.
"All it takes right now is a letter threatening legal action for a service provider to remove a blog or post, or for a publisher or editor to withdraw a book or spike an article. Reform will not create a press out of control (as many seem to fear), it will liberate us all — bloggers, NGOs, writers and publishers — from an unnecessary tyranny.
"The government has already shown that it can set the agenda when it recently repealed seditious libel and criminal defamation. Let us hope it can be similarly enlightened on this question too."

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