Friday 30 January 2015

Thursday 30 October 2014

Libel Reform Campaign Northern Ireland (EVENT) - I'll see you in court: ten people silenced by our libel laws

This event is happening on December 12 2014. A Friday evening at the Crescent Arts Centre. It starts at 6.30pm and will finish at 8pm. The event is part of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival, and is billed as follows:
"Free speech isn't free in Northern Ireland. Thanks to the unreformed law of libel, speaking out in the public interest can land you in court. Join Simon Singh and the Libel Reform Campaign at the Crescent Arts Centre to hear first hand the ten discussions the people of Northern Ireland cannot hear due to the archaic state of the law of libel. While the law in England & Wales was reformed in January this year, in Northern Ireland reform was blocked for reasons that remain unclear, even though the law had been severely criticised by the UN Human Rights Committee. 
In Northern Ireland, under the old unreformed law, the chill on free speech continues. From scientists sued for casting doubt on dubious treatments, to tennis players, oligarchs and quack vitamin pill salesmen who have sued, the Libel Reform Campaign will show you what you are not allowed to hear or read. Science writer Simon Singh will introduce this high-energy event with speeches from writers, journalists, victims of the law and campaigners."

Tuesday 3 June 2014

William Crawley - The Twitter block function is an evolution of thought.

@williamcrawley: The best thing about blocking people is that your timeline and Facebook discussions improve with each deletion. An evolution of thought.

Friday 23 May 2014

Neil Oliver - "The twitter block function is a truly liberating act. It's like having a light sabre."

@NEIL_OLIVER_: @almurray I've said it before and I'll say it again, the twitter block function is a truly liberating act. It's like having a light sabre.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

ECJ - Google link-removing ruling

The European Court Justice has said that Google must respect the 'right to be forgotten.' From here onwards, an internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing of personal data appearing in its results. 

David Aaronovitch wrote:

"There is already such a commercial process known as “search engine optimisation”. Now now we will add “search engine sanitation”. Someone with a little dosh will employ a legal specialist, a “sanitiser” to contest the material that is a bit, well you know."

In full: David Aaronovitch (@DAaronovitch) - Free speech must trump the right to privacy

Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) wrote,'Look who's demanding Google forgets them: criminals, MPs and dodgy doctors.'

Full judgement here:

Monday 12 May 2014

US Report - Findings of the Big Data and Privacy Working Group Review

In January 2014 President Barack Obama announced reforms to intelligence community practices following the leaks by Edward Snowden. John Podesta, a counsellor to the US president, authored the report. It calls on America to lead a global discussion on the subject of state surveillance, and the proper balance between security and privacy. John Podesta said:

"In January, President Obama asked me to lead a wide-ranging review of "big data" and privacy—to explore how these technologies are changing our economy, our government, and our society, and to consider their implications for our personal privacy... our review sought to understand what is genuinely new and different about big data and to consider how best to encourage the potential of these technologies while minimizing risks to privacy and core American values.

Over the course of 90 days, we met with academic researchers and privacy advocates, with regulators and the technology industry, with advertisers and civil rights groups. The President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology conducted a parallel study of the technological trends underpinning big data. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy jointly organized three university conferences at MITNYU, and U.C. Berkeley. We issued a formal Request for Information seeking public comment, and hosted a survey to generate even more public input.

Today, we presented our findings to the President. We knew better than to try to answer every question about big data in three months. But we are able to draw important conclusions and make concrete recommendations for Administration attention and policy development in a few key areas."

He then said:

"The big data revolution presents incredible opportunities in virtually every sector of the economy and every corner of society.

Big data is saving lives... Big data is making the economy work better... Big data is making government work better and saving taxpayer dollars... But big data raises serious questions, too, about how we protect our privacy and other values in a world where data collection is increasingly ubiquitous and where analysis is conducted at speeds approaching real time. In particular, our review raised the question of whether the "notice and consent" framework, in which a user grants permission for a service to collect and use information about them, still allows us to meaningfully control our privacy as data about us is increasingly used and reused in ways that could not have been anticipated when it was collected.

Big data raises other concerns, as well. One significant finding of our review was the potential for big data analytics to lead to discriminatory outcomes and to circumvent longstanding civil rights protections in housing, employment, credit, and the consumer marketplace."

And so:

"No matter how quickly technology advances, it remains within our power to ensure that we both encourage innovation and protect our values through law, policy, and the practices we encourage in the public and private sector."

The report made six actionable policy recommendations to the President:

"1. Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. 

2. Pass National Data Breach Legislation. 

3. Extend Privacy Protections to non-U.S. Persons. Privacy is a worldwide value that should be reflected in how the federal government handles personally identifiable information about non-U.S. citizens. The Office of Management and Budget should work with departments and agencies to apply the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-U.S. persons where practicable, or to establish alternative privacy policies that apply appropriate and meaningful protections to personal information regardless of a person's nationality.

4. Ensure Data Collected on Students in School is used for Educational Purposes.

5. Expand Technical Expertise to Stop Discrimination. 

6. Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The laws that govern protections afforded to our communications were written before email, the internet, and cloud computing came into wide use. Congress should amend ECPA to ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world—including by removing archaic distinctions between email left unread or over a certain age."

John Podesta also said:

"Big data unquestionably increases the potential of government power to accrue un-checked."

The Twitter libel problem unrolling before your eyes

Thursday 1 May 2014

Niamh Hargan - Media Law and Practice at University of Ulster Explained

[Niamh Hargan, a recently qualified solicitor took part in the new curriculum, Media Law and Practice, at the University of Ulster. A joint venture between the University of Ulster and SmithDehn LLP. She shares her experience of the course:]

As recently reported on Media Law Northern Ireland and elsewhere, this month has seen yet more exciting news for our burgeoning local film and television industry.

At a launch party on April 26th, international media and entertainment law firm SmithDehn LLP, together with production company Social Construct Media, announced the intention to establish their key European base in Derry later this year.

Already, though, these innovative twin companies have been making an impact: for the past twelve weeks, they have been teaching a pilot course in Media Law and Practice at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus, with partner and CEO Russell Smith at the helm. Among the 30 students, of which I was one, several had a background in legal studies and/or practice, whilst others brought hands-on

Wednesday 30 April 2014

SmithDehn and Social Construct launch in Derry

Eugene McNamee (@EugeneMcNamee), head of UU School of Law, Zak Kilberg (@SocialConstruct) of Social Construct and Russell Smith (@rsmith8) of Smith Dehn speaking at the joint launch fo SmithDehn LLP and Social Construct in Derry.
We were in attendance and had a great time. Big things are happening in Derry, Northern Ireland and Ireland. These are exciting times to be a forward thinking lawyer.
Irish News report here.BBC report here. The Lawyer reports here. Derry Daily reports here. SyncNI here. Our previous report from January 7 on the media law curriculum being taught in Derry, and the talk about SmithDehn coming to the second city here.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Hugh Tomlinson QC - Privacy and Defamation, Strasbourg blurs the boundaries

It is now clearly established in the case law of the Court of Human Rights that Article 8 protects the “right to reputation” as an aspect of private life. This is a relatively new idea, first appearing the case law as recently as 2004 (see Chauvy v France [70]).

The development was a controversial one because “reputation” was deliberately left out of Article 8 when the Convention was drafted (see our posts by Heather Rogers QC “Is there a right to reputation?“, Part 1 and Part 2). Nevertheless, the case law in both Strasbourg and the domestic courts is clear and consistent and is not likely to be reversed.

Dealing with reputation as a Convention Right: the first nine years

The recognition of reputation as a Convention right means that, when it considers defamation cases, the Court needs to balance freedom of expression and reputation from a starting point that neither takes precedence. This is a similar exercise to that carried out in privacy cases and there is a clear risk of the boundary between privacy and defamation becoming blurred (see generally, “Strasbourg on Privacy and Reputation”, Parts 1, 2 and 3).

Thursday 17 April 2014

Introducing News Sniffer (@news_sniffer)

Yesterday we introduced, today it's News Sniffer. A tool and tracker that does the same job but for the banner online newspapers.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Introducing (@IrishNewsDiffs)

Further explanation here:
"Irish NewsDiffs archives changes in articles after publication. Currently, we track, and
NewsDiffs, which was born out of the Knight Mozilla MIT hackathon in June 2012, is trying to solve the problem of archiving news in the constantly evolving world of online journalism.

The original NewsDiffs is at

This version was launched in April 2014 to track changes to Irish news websites.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Event - Launch of the Libel Reform Campaign Northern Ireland

The Libel Reform Campaign present a petition with 60,000 signatures to Downing Street in 2012
The immensely successful Libel Reform Campaign is coming to Belfast and Northern Ireland (sign up here):
"On Wednesday 7 May at 10am the Libel Reform Campaign will be bringing together writers, journalists, scientists, academics, human rights advocates and civil society to form a coalition to bring reform of the law of libel to Northern Ireland. 
With the launch of the Northern Ireland Law Commission consultation on libel reform expected in the coming months, a strong coalition will be needed that makes the case for reform of these archaic laws. You can read the campaign's criticisms of the law and the process that led to the new Defamation Act not being applied to Northern Ireland here and here
We would very much appreciate your participation in this coalition and your attendance at this event to bring together the coalition. I will be joined by Jo Glanville from English PEN, Sile Lane from Sense About Science and other Libel Reform campaigners. 
The event will be hosted in The Lab at the Belfast MAC (10 Exchange Street West, Belfast BT1 2NJ) from 10am - 12.30pm on 7 May. Plenty of coffee and pastries will be provided."
Sign up and register your attendance here.

Saturday 12 April 2014

ECJ strikes down Data Retention Directive

[PREFACE - United States]

On December 16 2013 the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia Judge Richard Leon ruled that NSA spying was likely to be unconstitutional. He called it "almost Orwellian".

On December 28 2013 in ACLU v. James Clapper, US District Judge William Pauley diverged from a ruling by Judge Richard Leon that questioned the NSA's constitutionality. He called it a counter-punch to terrorism. He raising the prospect that the Supreme Court will need to resolve the issue.


Europe has struck down the Data Retention Directive (Directive 2006/24/EC). A European law, made in 2006, that required telecommunications firms to collect and store data (locations, calls, texts and emails.) for at least six months and up to two years. Europe's highest court, the ECJ, heard the case after requests from Irish and Austrian courts.

The ECJ declared the law "invalid" and in contravention of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The law violated two basic rights:

One, respect for private life.

Two, protection of personal data.

Friday 11 April 2014

The trouble with conflict journalism

The State Visit of Michael D. Higgins to England and the banquet coincided with a BBC broadcast on alleged IRA gunrunner "Spike" Murray. This caused quite a stir on Twitter. This shows how conflict journalism remains controversial and divided. Some taking a censorial stance. Others more frontal. It shows how some stories could be hidden by fear of causing instability.

Thursday 10 April 2014

New Scholarship supported by Sky and the Royal Television Society Northern Ireland

Sky with support of the Royal Television Society NI launches TV scholarship in partnership with National Film School at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT)

Sky have announced details of a new Sky Academy TV Scholarship to be made available on the Masters (MA) in Broadcast Production course offered by The National Film School at the Dun Laoghaire IADT from September. The scholarship is part of Sky Academy, a set of initiatives which aim to use the power of television, creativity and sport to give up to one million young people in the UK and Ireland opportunities to build skills, experience and self-belief. The scholarship will be offered by Sky, supported by The Royal Television Society (RTS), to individuals who may not otherwise have the financial means to support themselves through further study, or may not have considered a career in the media for financial reasons. It is part of Sky's commitment to support and encourage emerging talent at grassroots level.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Paul Tweed to launch JAMS Ireland

Martin McGuinness with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and PM David Cameron
Former IRA commander Martin McGuinness attended the State Banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth. The Irish Times wrote:
"Had you asked anyone of a certain generation in Northern Ireland if they could ever see the Queen of England and Martin McGuiinness sitting down to have dinner you'd have been told to 'Get Your  Head Seen.'
On this occassion, Paul Tweed (@Paul_Tweed) has announced his intention to launch JAMS Ireland, specialising in finding solutions for political and diplomatic disputes within Ireland and across the globe. The Company will have facilities in Belfast and Dublin and will bring together a panel of experts including Brian Mawhinney (former Northern Ireland Minister) and Paul O'Higgins SC (Chairman - Irish Bar Council).

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Mike Gilson and Mike Nesbitt give evidence before the Finance Committee

Video of Mike Gilson here. Video of Mike Nesbitt here (2hr7m). Text of Mike Gilson here and text of Mike Nesbitt here.

Monday 7 April 2014

Intimidating and criminalising journalism

Glenn Greenwald with his partner who was detained in Heathrow under the Terrorism Act
[Earlier post by Brian Spencer on criminalising journalism in the US here]

In 2003 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) raiding the house of  two well known journalists, Liam Clarke (@LIAMCLARKECJ) and Kathryn Johnston (@kathrynjohnston). The police removed 21 bagfuls of the computers and material and detained the two journalists for 23 hours. Police searched their home and battered down the door of their office.

Friday 4 April 2014

Mick Fealty - Censoring dissent in Northern Ireland with violence and intimidation

Northern Ireland playwright Gary Mitchell was forced into hiding by a loyalist gang
Northern Ireland paramilitaries and gangs are notoriously intolerant of dissent or people who speak out. Mick Fealty said in an article in the Guardian, 'Freedom of speech: a matter of life and death':
"[Sean O'Callaghan speaks of] the burdensome intolerance of dissent which inflects all manner of political and cultural discourse [in Northern Ireland]. In the pre-modern political realities of significant parts of Belfast - expulsion is the preferred option. 
And as [Glenn] Patterson argues, this intolerance cuts across the cultural divide. The consequent loss of the talent represented by the forced departure of playwright Gary Mitchell damages all of Northern Ireland's society. It should serve as a warning to the post modern world beyond his native Rathcoole Estate, of the nasty consequences of the routine compromising of freedom of speech and expression."
Gary Mitchell was forced out of his home in the Belfast suburb of Rathcoole in November 2005. This happened after his house was attacked by loyalist paramilitaries. He also received a death-threat. He and his family are now living in hiding somewhere in Northern Ireland.

Mick Fealty in full here.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Brian Spencer - The DUP's fight against Libel Reform

GRAPHIC on the story of Libel Reform in Northern Ireland (in full here)
[This was originally published on and Off the Record]
(updated below)

Introducing the Defamation Act 2013

On January 1 2014 the Defamation Act 2013 came into effect in England and Wales.

The new law strengthens freedom of expression and gives a warm hand to journalists, writers, academics and scientists. The new law increases the freedom of readers to receive information. The new law strengthens the free speech position of every internet, social media and Twitter user. Olivia O’Kane explains the changes here.

Northern Ireland retains the old law. A law described by the UK as a “national embarrassment” and by the US as “repugnant” to their Constitution. A law slated by Geoffrey Bindman QC in 1994 as “seriously unbalanced and fundamentally flawed”. In fact, the US enacted the SPEECH Act in 2010 whose very purpose was to nullify and negate the chilling effect of our speech law on their US-based journalists.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Robinson and McGuinness tried to block FOI by saying disclosure would cost them votes

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness argued that they should be allowed to block an FOI request on the the grounds that releasing it could cost the votes. The OFMDFM is one of only four UK institutions tabbed by the Information Commission because of its poor record in complying with the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner, the watchdog which enforces the open government law, said: 
"The electoral prospects of individuals are not strictly a relevant factor when weighing the public interest in the disclosure of information."
The attempt to block the FOI procedure came after the News Letter made a response for the department’s ‘risk register’. The Information Commissioner dismissed the claim and ordered OFMDFM to provide the information by May 1 2014.

Friday 28 March 2014

Mike Harris - "Why is free speech not good enough for Northern Ireland?"

Writing in the Huffington Post here, Mike Harris (@mjrharris) has called the DUP's decision to veto libel reform an outrageous decision. He began by explaining the campaign for libel reform in England and Wales:
"It took endless humiliation before parliament got the message and decided to reform the law of libel: the UN Human Rights Council said our libel law chilled free speech across the entire globe, American academics faced our courts for writing about the funding of Al Qaeda, Barack Obama signed into law an act to protect Americans from our libel law and decent scientists such as Simon Singh Ben Goldacre and NHS cardiologist Pete Wilsmhurst faced ruin thanks to the law.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Ruth Dudley Edwards - Council "censored" report on violence

Ruth Dudley Edwards (@RuthDE) has accused Fermanagh district council of censorship. This comes after they forced the removal of her reporting that there had been violence associated with the Orange Order. She said:
"What happened happened and there is no hope for Northern Ireland if the past is airbrushed out because it doesn’t suit politicians or public officials."
Previously looked at Ed Moloney who said censorship extended Troubles by up to 15 years. Mick Fealty also noted that "journalists were sometimes told to hold back on a story in case they might do damage to the delicate administration." Read more in the Impartial Reporter here

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Olivia O'Kane - Number of Defamation claims in 2013 in Northern Ireland stabilise

Cases Received
Non-Court Disposals
Found for Plaintiff
Found for Defendant
Table 1: High Court Libel Proceedings

Court records show that the number of libel cases issued in Northern Ireland in 2013 remains at a similar level to 2011 and 2012. The total of all claims, in the High Court and the County Court, was 32 in 2012 and 30 in 2013.

Of the total of 64 claims issued in 2012 and 2013, 37 were claims against broadcast or print media defendants. There were 3 trials in 2012 and 2 in 2013. All of them were determined in favour of the plaintiffs.

The aggregate damages awarded in all defamation cases in 2012 was £112.505 – with the largest award being £80,000 in the case of Declan Gormley v Sinn Fein. In 2013, the aggregate damages awarded were £68,000 (2 judgments and one announced settlement).This is an updated version of the table from my 2012 post on Northern Ireland defamation cases.

Table 2: County Court Libel/Slander proceedings
Cases Received 
Court Disposals 
Found for Plaintiff 
Found for Respondent 


Data for 2013 should be treated as provisional


A case may not necessarily be dealt with in the same calendar year as it is received.

Olivia O’Kane is specialist media lawyer at Belfast solicitors Carson McDowell

Tuesday 25 March 2014



Fulton v Sunday World injunction application dismissed

Following Conway v Sunday World, another gagging case has made the headlines with Fulton v Sunday World. This case involved an application by member of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) to stop the Sunday World from continuing to report his alleged links with the UVF. In the High Court Gillen J dismissed the application.

Like Conway, Fulton's lawyers argued that a relentless series of articles about him have put his life at increased risk from dissident republicans. News Letter reports in full here.

Monday 24 March 2014

Spider Letters go to Supreme Court

The Court of Appeal has ruled unlawful the move by the Attorney General to suppress the publication of Prince Charles letters. Judgment in full here. Guardian reported here.

Roy Greenslade assented to the judgement and said:
"If Prince Charles is not neutral then the public have a right to know."
Paul Tweed dissented, saying the decision represented an incursion into the privacy of Prince Charles. Archie Bland called it a matter of secrecy, not privacy. 

However, we will not see Prince Charles' "spider letters" any time soon. The Attorney-General has taken leave to appeal  to the UK Supreme Court (@ukSupremeCourt). Attorney General Dominic Grieve said:
"We are very disappointed by the decision of the court. We will be pursuing an appeal to the Supreme Court in order to protect the important principles which are at stake in this case."

Northern Ireland journalists are working in a climate of intimidation

Journalists are working under a climate of threats and intimidation. Allison Morris of the Irish News had to be escorted from court by security guards. She received serious abuse from a gang of protesters when she was called a "Fenian bastard" and a "Fenian cunt". The demonstrators also threatened to cut her throat. The Guardian reported here. The National Union of Journalists reported here. NUJ president Barry McCall said:
"The media must be free to report on the courts without fear of violence or intimidation. Any attempt to undermine that right is an attempt to undermine the principles which underpin the judicial system."
On St Patrick’s Day 2014 a freelance photographer was assaulted on leaving a function at Belfast City Hall hosted by the Lord Mayor. They gang told him they knew which gym he went to and accused him of working for Sinn Féin, of being a dissident and subjected him to sectarian abuse. In June 2013 the PSNI informed a journalist that dissident republicans had issued a death threat against them.

Friday 21 March 2014

Protecting Journalist-Source Privilege in Australia

[This is a guest post by Peter Bartlett and Amanda Jolson (@amanda_jolson) of Minter Ellison (@MintersTMT) on Australia's shield laws. Shield laws are designed to protect the confidentiality of the journalist-source relationship. However there has been a sustained attempt to erode those protections that guard the journalist-source relationship. Peter Bartlett and Amanda Jolson Minter Ellison explain.]

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has called for uniform national shield laws. Christopher Warren, the Federal Secretary of the Alliance correctly referred to Australia's shield laws as "patchy and disparate."
According to Chris "it is appalling journalists are served with a subpoena that essentially would require them to breach their ethical obligation."

The comments followed this week's decision by Justice Janine Pritchard in the Supreme Court allowing us to seek special legal costs from Hancock Prospecting (Gina Rinehart). Hancock Prospecting had sought disclosure of sources from Fairfax's award winning journalist, Adele Ferguson.

Over recent years a number of Australian jurisdictions have adopted 'shield laws' that provide greater protection to the confidentiality of a source, and make it harder to compel journalists to reveal their sources to a court. These laws do not bestow an absolute privilege, but rather discretion available to the court to excuse the journalist from identifying an informant.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

DUP oppose attempt to make the new councils record their meetings

Sunday 16 March 2014

Northern Ireland Journalists told to hold back in name of peace process

Mick Fealty recently made two observations about Northern Ireland journalism.

One, he suggested that journalists are encumbered to and bound by the wishes of the media outlet's owner. He said:
“Rocking the boat”, I suspect, was never that big on the journalist’s agenda, particularly if not exactly to the proprietor’s taste. In any case, rocking it has more often been a case of cumulative work rather than going for it in one steady hit.
Two, he also suggested that journalists in Northern Ireland suffer from conformity and convention:
"Too many journalists still hunt in packs and so end up producing what Hugo Dixon calls ‘Me Too’ journalism. In the close confines of Northern Ireland this can lead to political pressures to conform (by not asking stupid questions) for the sake of our increasingly geriatric Peace Process™."
Mick Fealty had previously looked at the concentrated pressure for journalists to conform. He quoted an Irish Times report:  
"In [Northern Ireland] journalists were sometimes told to hold back on a story in case they might do damage to the delicate administration. While this was not a point to ignore, you couldn’t make exceptions."
But Mick Fealty has said how Northern Ireland journalists should operate:
"I’ve no doubt of the contribution, but the “well-behaved witness” now needs to start asking “stupid” questions. Otherwise false, or partial, narratives will go unchallenged as those witnesses continue to ignore “the bits that do not suit particular prejudices”. And when “agreed truth becomes accepted, the real truth becomes a lie”."

Saturday 15 March 2014

Tim Berners-Lee and Tim Farron call for digital "Magna Carta" and "bill of rights"

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet as we know it today has called for an online constitution. A shared document of principle that he has called a digital "Magna Carta". He is concerned about the web's neutrality, saying that it is under sustained attack from governments and corporations. An online "Magna Carta" would be a means to protect and enshrine the independence of the internet and the rights of its users. He said:
"Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years."
This call comes as part of the initiative 'the web we want.' This initiative calls on people to create a digital bill of rights in each country which should be supported by public institutions, government officials and corporations. Berners-Lee said:
"Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what's happening at the back door, we can't have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It's not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it."
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat presiden, has called for a digital bill of rights in response to 'overreach by the state' after its imposition of 'blanket surveillance' of citizens. It would be a move for the people against the work of GCHQ by blocking the "bulk collection of data". A digital bill of rights would protect the public by guarding basic online freedoms from the "untrammelled power of the state". He said:
"The 1689 bill of rights codified the basic freedoms which we still enjoy today. As we live more of our lives online, we deserve to know that we also enjoy a similar level of freedom in what we do in cyberspace."
The site for 'the web we want' can be accessed here.

Monday 10 March 2014

Wayne Denner - Do we really think about or pay attention to our Online Reputation?

Sadly NO! At least we have not begun to take the role of Protecting our Online Reputation seriously. But here’s the thing - once it goes online.. it stays online.

It’s not that it’s difficult to remove. It’s near impossible.

Therefore, Online Reputation, which yours truly has been banging on about on Twitter and Facebook, is serious, and it needs your attention RIGHT NOW.

But Wayne stop being over dramatic. Chill. How could a simple tweet or a Facebook post get me in trouble? Well it can, it does and it may cost you some hard earned $$. $105,000 to be exact in the case of former student of NSW School Andrew Farley who was ordered to pay this amount for “compensatory and aggravated damages” for making false allegations about music teacher Christine Mickle on Twitter & Facebook.   

Sunday 9 March 2014

#Pantigate - The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2014

Stephen Donnelly TD is working to remove the word "offence" from parts of the Irish statute book that would liberalise free speech. He explained here:
"On March 5, 2014, I introduced legislation that would change the Broadcasting Act to prevent litigious-minded groups and individuals from shutting down public debate. The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2014 removes any reference to the term “offence” from Section 39 of the Broadcasting Act, as a result, Broadcasters would no longer have to ensure that nothing that could be termed offensive is broadcast. 
I do not believe that people should be censored for saying offensive things, whether that offence is reasonably caused or not. This issue came to light recently with the ‘pantigate’ scandal. The legislation in its current form gags free speech, harms public debate and means broadcasters can be bullied by the litigious and thin-skinned. The simple change that I’m suggesting is the removal of the term offence from our legislation. 
There are probably some changes also needed to the Defamation laws, but this amendment would fix one of the biggest flaws in the current legislation and send a strong signal to broadcasters, minority groups and those they offend that Ireland values free speech."

Friday 7 March 2014

Mike Harris - House of Lords sends a clear message to Stormont: reform of the libel law is overdue

Last Tuesday, Lord Lexden alongside Lord Bew and Lord Black tabled an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to extend the Defamation Act 2013 to Northern Ireland. Seeing the impact on freedom of expression and the opaque manner in which this issue has been handled, respected parliamentarians spoke up for the amendment. The government refused to accept the motion and it was not put to the vote, but the debate itself had the desired impact. The amendment was a direct challenge to the DUP who feel that they alone can decide on libel reform for Northern Ireland.

It remains the case that very few know why the Defamation Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, an outrageous decision that has created a gaping loophole in the government's attempts to reform the UK's libel laws. As I noted in the Huffington Post, the humiliating rebuke by the United Nations Human Rights Council to the previous state of the libel law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland led to:
“the three major political parties to make a commitment to libel reform in their general election manifestos in 2010. They didn't qualify this bold commitment with "except in Northern Ireland". Why would they? The law in Northern Ireland has always been substantially the same as the law in England and Wales, that is until the government reformed it. At no point in the parliamentary debate did the government signal the Defamation Bill would not apply to the citizens of Northern Ireland.”

Thursday 6 March 2014

A comment on Delfi SA v Estonia

[Olivia O'Kane (@OliviaOKane1) earlier looked at the law in Delfi AS v Estonia here

Under the judgement (October 10 2013) handed down by Europe's Chamber of the First Section, Delfi and other online news sites are responsible for anonymous comments. This was a decision to uphold the Estonian court. The Court held that Delfi, one of Estonia’s main news websites, was liable for defamatory comments from its users. This was in spite of the fact that Delfi had taken down the comments as soon as they had been notified of them. 
In the Delfi AS v Estonia case the Court held that there had been no violation of Article 10. It found that the finding of liability by the Estonian courts was a justified and proportionate restriction on the portal’s right to freedom of expression, in particular, because: the comments were highly offensive; the portal failed to prevent them from becoming public, profited from their existence, but allowed their authors to remain anonymous; and, the fine imposed by the Estonian courts was not excessive.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

The story of the Defamation Act 2013

The modern movement to reform the law of libel in the UK began after Simon Singh was sued (2008-2010) by the British Chiropractic Association. An action described by David Allen Green as "misinformed" and "illiberal". An action commenced after Singh wrote an article in the Guardian saying that chiropractors who said they could treat children's colic and other ailments by manipulation of the spine were “bogus”.

A campaign emerged to support Signh who faced ruinous damage payments. The campaign was transformed by the charity Sense About Science and by English Pen and Index on Censorship. From this emerged "the Libel Reform Campaign". The three leading political parties backed libel reform in the 2010 general election. Via David Allen Green (@JackofKent).

Paul McDonnell - Northern Ireland is a libel-friendly, free-speech limiting outpost

Northern Ireland media lawyer Paul McDonnell (@_PaulMcDonnell_) of McKinty and Wright was cited by Lord Lexden in a House of Lords debate. Lord Lexden read out his submission in full:
"The refusal of the Northern Ireland executive to extend to Northern Ireland the remit of the Defamation Act and the legal clarity and free speech protection it brings, is quite simply unjustifiable. Why should the citizens and journalists of Northern Ireland not be afforded the same protection of those in the rest of the United Kingdom, whether they are expressing opinions online or holding government to account. Why as the rest of the United Kingdom embraces the digital revolution, should Northern Ireland be confined by our archaic and unfocused freedom of expression laws? 

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Blindfolding the public on libel reform

This is the problem we see time and time again: lawyers gag journalists, and in doing so they blind the general public.
We reported on the Sunday Politics NI debate here. The segment presented both the assenting and dissenting views on the matter of libel reform in Northern Ireland, (from Lord Bew and Paul Tweed respectively). We covered both sides of the debate and gave a full and equal airing to Lord Bew and Paul Tweed. However in the video above and here, Paul Tweed has decided to edit out those people who support libel reform and oppose his view. He has decided to presented an entirely one sided view.

This is a matter for concern. The public can view the Sunday Politics NI debate for only 7 days after the initial broadcast. Thereafter it will be removed from the public domain. The Paul Tweed edited version is on YouTube and will remain there until the day he decides to remove it. By this avenue of debate the public has been blindfolded.

He has given his airing to the public, but in doing so has screened out those voices that don't suit his agenda. Is that right? We support free speech and advocate that all voices be heard.

Paul's video coverage here. Our coverage here.

The "blizzard", "confetti", "volume" and "bombardment" of vexatious libel writs against Northern Ireland journalists

Northern Ireland journalists have repeatedly referred to the journalistic climate of libel intimidation in Northern Ireland.
  • Mike Gilson has worked across the British Isles and has said that Northern Ireland sees far more "vexatious claims"
  • Sam McBride has spoken of the "volume" of libel writs. 
  • Anthony McIntyre has said that letters are sent like "confetti". 
  • Newton Emerson has spoken of a "blizzard" of writs. 
  • BBC producer and peer Viscount Colville of Culross said that journalists had been "bombarded with daily, sometimes hourly, threats of defamation." 
  • Lord Lester of Herne Hill explained how a journalist who he represented sued by the Irish News for £25,000 found the "experience was so traumatic that she gave up her profession as a journalist." 
  • Ruth Dudley Edwards spoke of "the DUP’s enthusiasm for restrictive libel laws."
  • Mick Fealty said: "I can think of more than one Northern Irish politician that’s none to slow to pull the legal trigger when the occasion arises." 
  • Mick Fealty also said: "Who needs to visit Pyongyang when we can have Pyongyang here?" 
  • More worryingly, Mick Fealty reported that NI politicians now enjoy commercial indemnity, meaning "our MLAs want to be able to sue our ass. But be allowed lie with impunity." 
  • Eamonn Mallie has said "I'll see you in court" is the DUP's new "war cry"
  • Journalist Patrick Kane (@patrick_kane_) said that the libel law system has been "exploited by many, and gagged even more."
  • Former journalist Mike Nesbitt explained all libel actions he encountered involved the DUP (see here).
And here's the main issue and concern, as Mike Nesbitt said:
"The point is the laws are regularly utilised behind the scenes to try to influence, warn off, possibly even threaten."
And here:
"Many members of [the media] tell me they face regular threats of legal action for defamation from a particular local political party.

Monday 3 March 2014

Sunday Politics NI discuss libel reform

(From L-R) Lord Bew, Paul Tweed and Mark Carruthers
The House of Lords tried to push through libel reform in Northern Ireland by virtue of an amendment tabled by Lord Lexden. However it was ruled that the Stormont Assembly has primacy on the issue by virtue of the fact that libel law is a reserved matter.

Mark Carruthers asked Lord Bew: "Why was this attempt made at Westminster?" Lord Bew responded:
"Well when you get a Northern Ireland Provision Bill going through the House it's a very rare event. It's inevitable that people will make the attempt and there's a lot of feeling in the House of Lords on this issue to at least have a serious debate about it. The truth is now, the matter as far as the parliament in London is concerned, is actually over... it'w now a matter for the Assembly. The new minister Simon Hamilton has set up a report from the Law Commission with a distinguished LSE academic Dr Scott to work on. And really that is where the debate and the focus now is. But I think it was worth airing once again last week at Westminster the concerns that exist about freedom of expression and that fact that it is now at a weaker level than the rest of the UK."