The Ladybird Guide to Libel Reform

This has been a bad week for freedom of expression in Britain but a useful one as well because it’s two most serious enemies – money power and religious terror – have been in plain view.

First, the money. The BBC folded in the face of libel threats from Trafigura, the charming multi-national which dumped waste off the Ivory Coast and whose lawyers – Carter Ruck, inevitably – not only tried to silence the entire national press but Parliament as well. The corporation’s refusal to challenge it and by extension the libel law, which so favours the wealthy, has infuriated every journalist and editor I have spoken to. Newspaper finances are collapsing, yet good editors still take cases to court. The BBC’s management might have joined them. Unlike their competitors, they enjoy a guaranteed income – the tidy sum of £3 billion a year. They could have afforded the £3 million cost of a libel case, and ought to have looked at Simon Singh, Peter Wilmshurst and others who are running the risk of personal bankruptcy in order to fight for reform. I think they and their supporters will win. As Jack of Kent points out, politicians are moving and there are signs that the senior judiciary are starting to worry about the growing national and international contempt for the law they preside over.

If we do get reform, BBC managers will benefit from fights won by better and braver men and women, whom they were not prepared to stand by when it might of made a difference. I am afraid the Trafigura climbdown reveals the BBC to be a parasitical organisation, which profits from the sacrifices of others.

Carry on reading

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