Now, to reform that UK libel law.
From Open Culture, some background and a Q&A with the man who’s fighting for UK libel reform. An excerpt:
OPEN CULTURE: Why should this concern someone living away from the British Isles?
SIMON SINGH: The issue of libel tourism means that everyone in the world should be scared of the English libel law. If you write anywhere in the world about a billionaire, then the London court can probably claim jurisdiction because the material can probably be read in England over the internet and billionaires typically have business interests in England so they can claim to have a reputation in England. There are many cases of libel tourism, such as Saudi billionaires suing an American journalist, a U.S. company suing a Danish researcher, an Israeli technology company threatening to sue a paper written by a Swedish professor, a Tunisian man suing a German newspaper, an Icelandic bank suing a Danish newspaper, and so on – all these cases ended up in London, the libel capital of the world.
Thanks for the heads up from Dan.
From the Guardian:
The [UK] science writer Simon Singh has won his court of appeal battle for the right to rely on the defence of fair comment in a libel action. Singh was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over an opinion piece he wrote in the Guardian in April 2008.
Singh described the ruling as “brilliant” but added: “It is extraordinary this action has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a few words.”
After the ruling, Tracey Brown, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Libel Reform, said: “We are delighted with the judges’ ruling but it does not go far enough. There is a cardiologist currently being sued by a device manufacturer, we have researchers who have been unable to publish their critique of lie detector technology because of threats of libel action. A major science journal is also currently being sued and our academics are being told to pull down blogs. We urgently need a public interest defence so that we can all be sure of our rights as publishers, writers, authors and academics.”
In May 2009 I blogged about how UK science journalist and personality Simon Singh was being sued by that country’s chiropractic association because he expressed his learned scientific opinion that chiropractic wotsits are bogus.
Last week Simon wrote a sad column for the Guardian; sad because it was his last. It turns out that fighting this lawsuit is consuming all his spare time and energy, and a lot of his money.
Today, comedian Robin Ince pledged his support for Singh. That’s good. Ince is a (funny) voice of scientific reason. He hosted a gig that finished Libel Reform Week in the UK. That’s similar to his Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, which Singh also contributed to.
It’s ludicrous that a nation like the United Kingdom has such backwards laws. Obviously people need protection from libel. But to quash what scientists debate in fields of science? You might as well expect the return of the Spanish Inquisition.
A lot of prominent scientists have signed a petition in support of Singh and, more importantly, of changing the laws so that the charge of libel can’t be misused in the forum of honest debate in science. You can sign the petition, too.