Publish and be damned:Cut the middleman out of the libel laws

Sunny Hundal on More 4 News on Friday:

The Usmanov-Murray dispute illustrates a problem with Britain’s libel laws that is not unique to the internet. By targeting Murray’s hosting providers, Usmanov’s solicitors have effectively tried to suppress his allegations before Murray has had the chance to defend them in court.

The print media have faced similar problems in the past. In 1993, when the New Statesman referred to allegations that John Major was having an affair with Clare Latimer, Major sued the printers, wholesalers and distributors as well as the magazine.

We know now that Major would have had a serious problem if the case
had come to court. A good barrister might well have asked him if he had
ever had an affair, which he had, with Edwina Currie from 1984 to 1988.

That revelation would have done serious damage to Major given the prevailing atmosphere of disillusionment with Tory sleaze during his second term.

The law has apparently been narrowed since then, but evidently not enough. Web hosting companies are even less like publishers than W.H. Smiths are.

Murray’s predicament demonstrates that is still to easy for the rich and powerful to suppress allegations by targeting intermediaries who have little interest in defending them, whether they are true or not. Interestingly, Usmanov has reportedly not taken any action against Murray over the contents of his book, Murder in Samarkand.

Incidentally, Kathy Bell of Areopagitica has set up a Facebook group for Craig Murray’s supporters. There are some interesting suggestions for a Downing Street Petitition, notably this one from Graeme Pietersz:

A separate petition for a change in the law to give hosting companies a "common
carrier" exemption, similar that in US law would seem needed as well. A reform
of UK libel law to excluded out of jurisdiction prosecutions is needed as well.

What I mean by that is that I am not in the UK at the moment, I could
easily move my web hosting out, but I could still be sued in the UK!






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