The public interest defence

Libel laws probably are a bit too vicious in England (note, not Britain, but England and Wales). And yet:

Defamation law has a value – it protects people from having their reputations damaged by untrue claims. But it can also be exploited. Whatever the merits of these particular cases, the threat of litigation can be used to suppress the sort of writing that serves the public interest in knowing about how people come to accumulate and deploy the financial or political power that shapes our lives. This is a global problem, but London and its specialist law firms are very much its beating heart. Cases such as this, where the rich and powerful resort to the law to challenge journalists and publishers over what appear to be matters of public interest, should always give rise to concern, and there is a valid argument to make that time, and the legal process, should stop and take stock of the wider concerns this sort of litigation raises.

One way of reading that is that we should be allowed to tell lies about the rich because they’re the establishment, innit?

Which doesn’t really sound like the solution.

16 thoughts on “The public interest defence”

  1. Well that’s the balance one has to strike: on the one hand millionaires suppressing journalists on the other hand Carol Cadwalldr.

  2. Whoever wrote this needs an editor: “there is a valid argument to make that time, and the legal process, should stop [et cetera].” The sentence as continued clarifies what is not meant by this, but boy, it makes the reader stumble.

  3. ‘Retaliation in any workplace is unacceptable’ says the lawyer of the woman who’s accused Cuomo. It’s claimed Cuomo’s mob released her confidential files to the media.

    I’m not sure where we should draw the line, but I feel that the notion of only one side being allowed to slang the other is a trifle off.

  4. Ottokring,

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to trust millionaires (or billionaires) more than journalists. I’ve realised that journalists are far more likely to be bitter little destructive assholes, while millionaires and billionaires are more likely to want to make other people’s lives better.

  5. Some years ago, in a conversation with a lawyer specialising in defamation cases, he mentioned that the word “alleged” had made him a very wealthy man.

  6. Bloke in North Dorset

    Publish and be damned, aka put you money where your mouth is a good test of whether journalists believe their own stories and in extremis we have another safeguard against those who abuse our libel laws.

    It just so happens I’ve been been listening to a podcast about Cap’n Bob, the Bouncing Czech, who was infamous for his use of libel laws – in the end the problem got raised in the HoC and that was the end of him.

  7. ’… it protects people from having their reputations damaged by untrue claims.

    Unless those untrue claims are made by the state in a criminal trial, of course.

  8. journalists are far more likely to be bitter little destructive assholes, while millionaires and billionaires are more likely to want to make other people’s lives better

    Frankly I’d rather the world’s billionaires stayed the fuck out of my life. I am highly suspicious of the do-goodery of people like Gates, who spent his entire working career being a total cunt to all and sundry.

  9. “Cuomo’s mob”; ooh, anti-Italian racism. Dog whistling. Ooh.

    Anyway, anyway: can anyone tell me why old Joe isn’t being done for fondling a little girl’s nipple (allegedly)?

  10. The Meissen Bison

    JuliaM:

    ’… it protects people from having their reputations damaged by untrue claims.

    Unless those untrue claims are made by the state in a criminal trial, of course.

    Or by an unsavoury political manipulator like Tom Watson using Parliamentary privilege to pillory political adversaries.

  11. Frankly I’d rather the world’s billionaires stayed the fuck out of my life. I am highly suspicious of the do-goodery of people like Gates, who spent his entire working career being a total cunt to all and sundry.

    But that’s not really about defamation so much as lobbying and patronage. God knows how much Gates, Soros et al have spent on lobbyists, but the fact that they’ve managed to bend legislative writ in their direction and against the best interests of the electorate illustrates that their is a problem, although quite what the solution is I’m not sure.

    For all of Captain Bob’s wealth, his lies were exposed in the end, but it cannot be denied that his frequent use of that wealth to silence critics (even perfectly valid criticism) did have a “chilling effect” as the terminology goes, with the press withholding publication on matters which may have led to his downfall sooner and saved Mirror Group pensioners millions.

    The problem here is that when newspapers do have full license and freedom to print what they like without consequence they have seldom covered themselves in glory, so defamation and libel, expensive though they are (enabling the rich and excluding the poor) seem to provide some balance.

    The fact that those without financial resources are left to the tender mercies of the press complaints process with the only recourse being a mealy-mouthed retraction on page 94 of whatever journal has defamed / libelled them is another matter entirely, but we’re plebs and nobody gives a flying phuq about the plebs.

  12. If truth is not an absolute defense then you have gone too far towards the complainant.

    On the other side, there should be room for mockery and sarcasm without a decade of court to punish it.

  13. The rich and powerful can always defame the ordinary person – especially when libel cases are not eligible for legal aid, so a victim has to hope for a no-win-no-fee solicitor to take them on or crowdfunding.

    The problem with libel laws is that they keep the extremely one-sided balance of power.

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