Monday, November 9, 2009

U.K. Fears Domestic Newsstands Outcome of Liberal Libel Laws

The British Houses of Parliament, LondonImage via Wikipedia
Members of Parliament are concerned that England's favorable climate for libel plaintiffs against media defendants could prompt U.S. and other foreign newspaper and magazine outlets to block access to their Web sites and stop selling their publications in the United Kingdom.

A memorandum submitted to MPs on behalf of several media organizations, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and MacMillan Publishers, warns that foreign newspapers may abandon the nominal sale of 200-plus copies of their publications in London, rather than risk exposure to "libel tourism," or forum-shopping by plaintiffs who seek out jurisdictions, such as the U.K., where defamation actions may be brought based on speech that would be protected in less libel-friendly nations, such as the United States. A meeting between U.S. Publishers and the House of Commons is upcoming.
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  1. I suspect that the U.S. publishers' efforts will be viewed by UK moderates as inappropriate bullying, and as American imperialism by UK nationalists. If the situation were reversed, I wonder how America would react. Libel laws reflect societal values.

  2. On the other hand, Donna, how much do crooks, perverts and wife beaters (assuming the libel charges are true) add to the economy when they bring charges in England? I suspect media companies spend more. So, Blighty should adjust its laws to accommodate the corporate might of surging American dynamos like The New York Times.

  3. Several states have passed legislation that would not permit enforcement of "libel tourism" judgments in England. Media outlets can decide it's not worth the trouble to provide 200 hard edition copies of their newspaper for sale in London when a plaintiff can then argue that the US newspaper transacted business in England and is subject to its libel jurisdiction. Not as easily done on the Internet; hence, the talk of blocking access to Web sites. The media concern is the "chilling effect" on free speech, the self-imposed timidity that could result as a means of warding off suits. Thanks to you both for your input.