May 12, 2008

The English strike back, 227 years later

Can America's First Amendment stand up to English libel law? Probably, but English courts have become a friendly venue for wealthy individuals and governments wanting to punish their critics, as happened to writer Rachel Ehrenfeld last year and the Kyiv Post this year.

The larger worry is that free speech rights grounded in our First Amendment will be challenged in court rooms around the world, as various countries use various laws to strike back and what they find offensive. Time Magazine, for example, is appealing a $100-million judgment handed down by an Indonesian court in a case by the family of the late President Suharto.

From The Economist: Mark Stephens, a London lawyer, says “libel tourism” is giving way to “libel and privacy cruises”, where people are seeking the most favourable jurisdiction they can find.

Big media companies might be wiling to fight these legal skirmishes in foreign courts, but these kinds of cases will surely have a chilling effect on individuals and smaller news outlets that try to do substantive international reporting.

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