Thursday, 28 November 2013

Peaches Geldof could face investigation for contempt of court

Monday, 25 November 2013

Peter Robinson supports veto of the new Westminster libel law

Asked by the News Letter if he had any interest in the veto of Westminster's libel reform act, the First Minister Peter Robinson said:
"I certainly am interested. I have to say I am bemused at people who want to help their chums in the media out. I’ll stand up for ordinary people who are wronged by the media. The suggestion – the absurd suggestion – by some that this restricts in some way the media from doing their job and is an infringement of rights...there is a defence against any defamation case, a total defence against a defamation case, and that is truth. 
So if the media are telling the truth, what are they worried about? Why would they be concerned about this if they intended to write or to publish or to broadcast the truth? That is the defence that they could take and I think the withdrawal of that kind of legislation [in England and Wales] allows a recklessness that we’ve seen creeping in to broadcasting and media behaviour. 
The News Letter also reported that Mr Robinson, who has himself threatened to sue for libel in the past, said that it was not difficult to sue but the “costs are prohibitive”.
Original News Lertter report here. Previous posts on the veto of the Westminster libel reform by Stormont here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

John Maher - Can defamation law keep up with the digital age?

John Maher BL
John Maher BL is a barrister and author of The Law of Defamation. In an article here for the Irish Times (extracted from an address to the UCC Law Society conference 2013, "The Changing Landscape of Media Law") he wrote here:
"Is there any prospect of defamation law operating consistently around the world? We have created a global communications system, but we do not have a global response to its problems. The strong position of freedom of speech in US law and culture contrasts with varying levels of commitment to the same principle elsewhere, even within Europe
Those who seek to abuse online freedoms can avoid liability in one jurisdiction by operating from another, and the law has yet to address this obvious problem. 
Perhaps international co-ordination only happens when countries feel compelled to act together, for example to boost trade or tackle international crime. But the victims of serious online defamation are random and dispersed, and their problems are theirs alone. For now, lawmakers do not feel the need for a co-ordinated response. 
Finally, we might consider whether the internet and social media are changing us. Six years ago in the Atlantic magazine Nicholas Carr provocatively asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and bemoaned the decline of his memory, his attention span and his intellectual rigour as he flitted from one thing to the next on the internet. He may have exaggerated, but it is clear that the internet may be changing how we take in information, how we think about one another, and what we are prepared to say about one another. 
A remarkable aspect of the recent controversy involving former Conservative Party grandee Alistair McAlpine, falsely linked on Twitter to a child abuse scandal, was that his defamers included the respected columnist George Monbiot, and Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons. What impulse drove them, and people like them, to show that they were up to speed on the latest rumours? And if we are creating a world in which people will routinely put immediacy before accuracy, will it be possible for defamation law to hold the line and say: the individual’s reputation is still something worth protecting? 
John Maher BL is a barrister and author of The Law of Defamation (Round Hall). This article is extracted from an address to the University College Cork Law Societyconference 2013, “The Changing Landscape of Media Law”.
In full here.

Delfi v Estonia - ECHR suggests websites need to police their comments for defamatory posts

In Delfi v Estonia the ECHR delivered judgment about an Estonian news site should worry all websites allowing users to comment below online articles. Until now, prompt removal upon complaint has provided a defense against libel actions. This ruling by the European Court of Human Rights suggests websites need to police their comments and anticipate when a story will attract defamatory posts.

This will place a huge burden on news sites, which will need to review their moderation if the judgment is not challenged and rejected in the ECHR's grand chamber.Prior to this blog editors have always relied on rulings such as Godfrey v Demon Internet and Kaschke v Gray & Hilton which have said that removal on notice provides a defence to those blogs that host comments. More on this here.

In the case of Tamiz v Google [2013] here the High Court in London found Google was not the publisher of defamatory material posted by someone using its blog facility, the judge suggesting you could not hold the owner of a wall responsible for graffiti sprayed on it by someone else.

The Court of Appeal has overturned that decision, however, and likened Google to the owner of a notice board who, once aware that a defamatory notice has been pinned up, must either remove it or be liable for it.

In Delfi v Estonia the European Court of Human Rights went further, and said a news website should be able to predict which articles might generate offensive or libellous comments, and be prepared to act in advance. This would seem to stretch the obligations of news site owners beyond the practical and, although not directly applicable here, the case may set a tone for future decisions. The second fundamental issue is whether the law can balance the right to freedom of expression, while vindicating the rights of the person who has been defamed. It is fundamental to our Constitution and vital to our democracy that justice is administered in public.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Paul Tweed letter to the Financial Times

The Financial Times published a letter by Belfast media lawyer Paul Tweed.
From Mr Paul Tweed. 
Sir, You report (“Reducing costs of UK libel actions could cause wave of litigation”, November 4) that a media law firm has suggested that the proposed Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting “would hurt small publishers disproportionately”. 
However, the proposed costs protection order may also be granted in favour of a regional newspaper or publisher with limited financial means as well as an impecunious claimant. In other words, both claimants and defendants with limited means may not have to pay costs if it is determined to be in the overall interests of justice. 
Paul Tweed, Senior Partner, Johnsons Law Firm, London SW1, UK
Read in the FT here. Read on Scribd here and here.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Belfast Telegraph rejects Royal Charter

The Belfast has done what The Spectator magazine did, and said NO to the Royal Charter. Paul Connolly of the Belfast Telegraph wrote here:
"It is a clear and decisive affirmation that we reject as a shabby deal the agreement cooked up between the three main UK political parties and the Hacked Off lobby group."
He further said:
"So, the Belfast Telegraph gave notice that it will not sign the Royal Charter which, in our view, opens the door for politicians potentially to neuter the Press for the first time in 300 years.Only a two-thirds majority is needed in the House of Commons to overturn the current plans and shackle the Press even further. It is not too difficult to imagine that happening in more illiberal times."
The editor, Mike Gilson gave his viewpoint here:
"We believe that the industry's plans present the best future for the press and for the protection of the public. As the current phone hacking trial shows, there are already effective laws in place for those who might stray beyond acceptable boundaries.The press must be responsible, cannot be above the law but must be free to make mistakes as well as hold the powerful and famous to account. 
The Belfast Telegraph has a proud 143-year history of reporting the events in this part of the world without fear or favour. Signing up to this Royal Charter and its political interference would sell short the ideals of the newspaper. We do not intend to do that."

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Nick Cohen - Censorship is at its most effective when no one admits it exists

Nick Cohen wrote in The Spectator here
"Censorship is at its most effective when no one admits it exists."

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Incinerating Ireland's Censorship Board

Fintan O'Toole wrote about the continuing existence Ireland's censorship board here:
"So far this century seven books have been referred to the board by members of the public. Not a single book has been banned. In the same period 34 “periodical publications”, mostly magazines, have been referred to the board. Nine were banned, all in 2003. So for the past decade no publication has been prohibited."
He explained its cynical effect: "Yet it’s not quite true to say that the censorship process has no effect. It retains a vestigial power in one specific area: publications about abortion. The current register of banned publications contains no books prohibited on the old and notorious grounds that they are “in general tendency indecent or obscene”. But it does still contain books banned on the grounds that “they advocate the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such procurement."

Fintan O'Toole explained why the old infrastructure must be demolished and demolished loudly. He said:
"But it is worth making a fuss, because it provides the opportunity for an official apology for the way the State allowed a few busybody philistines to inflict their dirty-minded ignorance on many of our best artists. 
There was nothing funny or quaint about censorship. It was cruel and demeaning. Beginning with Liam O’Flaherty’s The House of Gold, in 1929, serious works of literature by Irish writers from Bernard Shaw to Kate O’Brien to John McGahern were systematically banned. The brunt of censorship was borne not by pornographers but by artists: one study found that 70 per cent of books banned for indecency or obscenity in the 1930s had been reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement. 
Irish writers were specifically targeted, so that none of them could make a living from the sale of their books in Ireland. As Frank O’Connor pointed out, the real aim of the censorship was to “destroy the character and prospects of Irish writers in their own country”. As for Irish readers, they were reduced, as Samuel Beckett – banned, of course – put it, to being fed, like Irish pigs, on the “sugarbeet pulp” of romances and cowboy novels. 
This cultural vandalism is still a stain on the State. The censorship board shouldn’t be allowed to expire with a whimper. It should be incinerated sacrificially, with an official apology for its miserable existence."
In full here.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Removing Blasphemy from the Irish Constitution

Members of the Convention on the Irish Constitution voted on Sunday 3 November 2013 on whether the reference to the offence of blasphemy should be kept as it is in the Constitution, 38% said Yes, 61% said No and 1% were either undecided or had no opinion. In a follow-up question, 38% of members believed the offence should be removed from the Constitution altogether, 53% said it should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred and 9% had no opinion