Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Lord Bew says libel law policy is bad for NI universities and journalists

The News Letter hosted an edited version of a speech given by Lord Bew to the House of Lords on the Stormont decision not to import the recent libel reforms. Read in full here.
"The truth is that British provincial, what we might call old-style redbrick universities, are finding it more and more difficult in a competitive world to retain their remarkably strong position in league tables. 
We do not seem at this point to have a problem with keeping Oxford and Cambridge — or Imperial — right up at the top, but there is considerable evidence that universities such as Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield are struggling in an intensely competitive world to maintain their relatively high positions in those league tables. Queen’s University Belfast is certainly not exempt from that difficult struggle. 
To me, it sends out a very negative signal for academics who might be considering working at Queen’s University Belfast to discover that they would be working in the only region of the United Kingdom where, at this point, the amount of academic freedom is a matter of indifference. 
One of the most important things in the new defamation legislation is the increased defence of academic freedom, particularly to allow academics to express controversial and difficult opinions in peer-reviewed journals in both the sciences and humanities in a way in which the chill factor previously undoubtedly militated against. It seems to me symbolically that if you want to maintain a vital university culture, this is a mistake for the Assembly. 
The sector is of considerable importance to the economy of Northern Ireland and what has been done here has implications for the economy of Northern Ireland."

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