Wednesday 15 September 2010

'Government will bin Lester's libel law reform bill'

Media lawyer Mark Stephens has predicted that Lord Lester's Defamation Bill proposing libel law reform will be binned and "killed" by the coalition Government.
Stephens, speaking at last night's Blogger in the Dock debate, organised by Index on Censorship at the Free Word Centre in London, even wagered £50 that whatever the Government proposed on libel reform would be worse and much more astringent than that proposed by Lord Lester in his Bill.
Stephens suggested that libel lawyers had too much vested interest in the libel laws to want radical change. He claimed libel laws were no longer relevant at a time when "everybody can be a publisher"on the internet and instead we should trust in the "innate good sense of crowds" and that "the sensible and reasonable will drive out the evil and the wrong".
Stephens said the libel laws had fallen into disrepute and society was now more sophisticated about the value given to different types of media. "In the modern era,I don't think the law of libel has a place."
Stephens added that when newspapers got it wrong he favoured the voluntary corrections published by the Guardian and US papers to deal with inaccurate stories.
Sile Lane, from Sense About Science, who is campaigning for libel reform, was less pessimistic about the Government. She said all parties at the last election, in particular the Liberal-Democrats, had committed themselves to libel reform and it was still "all to play for".
Another panelist, journalist Dave Osler, who was at the centre of a long libel case that was eventually struck out by the courts, said he felt people needed protection from being "monstored" by the mass media or being bullied by the likes of Robert Maxwell.
He said he favoured libel reform and the introduction of a "fruitcase clause" which would stop vexatious complaints with no reasonable case from starting libel proceedings.
Stephens advice to bloggers was to "displace" themselves from the UK and switch to internet providers in the US. He told them: "then you won't be in the dock."
Panel: Dave Osler (left), Mark Stephens (centre), Sile Lane (right).
Pic: Jon Slattery.

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