Tuesday, 4 February 2014

BBC, News Letter and Belfast Telegraph respond to "overwhelming support" for Libel reform

The public consultation into Mike Nesbitt's libel reform Bill (drafted in May and introduced in June 2013 here) received "overwhelming support". On January 29 2014 The News Letter gave its view on developments here:
"Reading about the massive public support for reforming Northern Ireland’s libel laws, many will wonder why an issue over which there is near-unanimous agreement was blocked from even entering the Assembly. Some fear that by referring the issue to the Law Commission, Mr Hamilton is attempting to block Mr Nesbitt’s bill. Given the results of Mr Nesbitt’s consultation, such a course of action would be difficult to explain. As a new minister, Mr Hamilton has a chance here to nail his colours to the mast. 
Free speech is too important to be mired in party politicking."
Read The Libel Reform Campaign's response to Nesbitt here. Earlier post on the public consultation here (Belfast Telegraph here, News Letter here, BBC here).

Further Reading

For earlier post on the matter of libel reform in Northern Ireland, Simon Hamilton asked the Law Commission NI to "cast a fresh eye" over the Defamation Act 2013 here. Lawyer Tony Jaffa welcomed that Law Commission report here. The Law Commission has since said it recommends a public consultation into the new libel law regime here. Mike Nesbitt introduced new legislation here and explained why Northern Ireland needs libel reform here. Mike Harris said in January 2014 of the urgency to reform Northern Ireland libel law here. Mike Nesbitt's consultation found overwhelming support for libel reform in NI here. The News Letter said it supported libel reform here. Peter Robinson said that he saw no point in libel reform here, and media lawyer Paul Tweed supported the Sammy Wilson veto here. The Stormont Committee found the libel reform was unnecessary here. Paul Connolly in the Belfast Telegraph and Lord Black backed reform here, 31 writers and poets called for libel reform here. His draft bill is here. David Pannick QC said here that an "unpleasant odour" was coming from Northern Ireland's libel laws. A doctor said here that the current libel laws in Northern Ireland had contributed to patient deaths. Mike Harris from Index on Censorship made representations before Stormont Committee on the need for libel reform in Northern Ireland, see here. Index's letter to the Stormont Committee can be read here. Jo Glanville of English Pen slammed the Stormont libel veto here. Lord Bew said here that the NI libel laws were bad for academics and journalists. Lord Black said here that the libel veto puts jobs and investment at risk. Lord Lester opposed the libel veto here. The Ulster Business Magazine asked NI media lawyers Paul Tweed and Olivia O'Kane if people should be worried by Northern Ireland's libel isolationism here. A May 2013 analysis from this blog on the events surrounded libel reform in NI here. Sam McBride tweeted about the possible consequences of the libel veto here. As did Newton Emerson here.

Mike Nesbitt wrote in the Belfast Telegraph on July 23 2013 here:
"In all my years in broadcast journalism, I was involved in very few cases of defamation, but, of those that did emerge, all involved the political classes. Indeed, they all involved the DUP: two were brought by elected representatives; the third by those offended by comments made by one of their senior members. 
So, should politicians declare an interest when commentating on the laws of defamation? They should certainly bear it in mind."
Lord Lester, the Liberal Democrat architect of the new libel law, said (via Slugger O'Toole) here:
"I can’t think of any good reason to do that, unless it’s because politicians in Northern Ireland want to be able to sue newspapers more readily, which doesn’t seem to me to be a very good reason."

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