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Jan 16 2014

Guest post: libel threats in Ireland

Originally a comment by mudpuddles on You can’t say that?

There have been a number of cases here in Ireland where politicians and other high-profile people (high-profile here, not necessarily anywhere else) have successfully sued individual broadcasters and / or their programmes or hosting company (which has in the past included RTE) over allegedly libelous or defamatory statements or programme content. A number of those cases have been valid, but some have been nothing short of bullying tactics aimed at silencing dissent or criticism. Most have succeeded. In one famous case from 4 or 5 years ago, the then-Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) threatened legal action after an art gallery hung two paintings depicting a caricature of him in a state of undress (in kind of a “the emperor has no clothes” concept). The art was removed. What’s worse, he also threatened legal action against RTE which included a piece about the art in its news programmes. Bizarrely, RTE issued an on-air apology to him on the news the following day.

As a result, there is an utterly ridiculous terror of libel, and way over the top efforts by RTE and other media (notably Today FM and the RTE radio outlets) to backpeddle and apologise profusely whenever any guest or interviewee says anything which might, at even the wildest stretch of the imagination, be considered to leave an opening for a lawsuit. It matters not whether any statement is backed up by rock solid evidence (such as is the case with the writings of John Waters, a disgusting bigot, and with the public statements and actions of the Iona Institute).

So RTE censoring a recorded interview, which has already gone out live, is not a shock. Its just indicative of the broader problem of cowardice and complacency within the media here, and a symptom of the cosy relationship that journalists and media organisations like to foster with the powers that be.

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  1. 1
    Pliny the in Between

    I have a question – do you have any information as to whether US based or created content has ever been subjected these kinds of legal attacks from countries with less liberal speech policies?

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh god yes – Deborah Lipstadt for one. One BIG one.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    That’s what “libel tourism” is all about – people go to London to sue people they couldn’t possibly sue in their own jurisdictions. There was that Saudi one, that resulted in a whole (valuable) book being pulped. It was about Saudi funding of terrorist groups, I think. I’ll have to look it up…

  4. 4
    Pliny the in Between

    Well that’s a bit worrisome. I do some cartoons and I’ve found that a couple of UK sites have re-posted them. Some of them have addressed groups not known for their sense of humor. But I suppose more than 5 people would ever have to see them to be an issue ;)

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/25/business/media/25libel.html?_r=0

    “Rather than fighting against these odds, many people accused of libel in Britain settle without trials. Or, in suits involving foreign defendants, they simply do not show up.

    That is what happened in the case of Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, who four years ago lost a case that gave rise to the American lobbying campaign.

    Ms. Ehrenfeld was sued in Britain by a Saudi businessman, Khalid bin Mahfouz, after she wrote, in a book titled “Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed — and How to Stop It,” that he and members of his family had financially supported Al Qaeda before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    A British judge, David Eady, ordered Ms. Ehrenfeld to pay £10,000 each to Mr. Mahfouz and his two sons, and more than £100,000 in legal costs.

    Ms. Ehrenfeld contends that the case should never have been allowed to proceed in Britain, given that only about two dozen copies of the book were shown to have been sold there. British law, Ms. Ehrenfeld said, “is being used as a tool to silence critics and endanger our national security.””

    I was thinking of a different one though; I must have mashed two together: I was thinking of a scholarly book published by Cambridge UP.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Pliny – well they have improved the law since that case. Not enough, but some.

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    Ah yes, the Cambridge Press one was Alms for Jihad. 2007.

  8. 8
    Pliny the in Between

    Thanks for the information. I’ll definitely need to study some of the case law details.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Wow. One of the co-authors of Alms for Jihad gives his account at HNN (History News Network).

    http://hnn.us/article/42436

    “On May 9, 2007 CUP agreed to virtually all of the Shaykh’s demands to stop sale of the book, destroy all “existing copies,” prepare a letter of apology, and make a “payment to charity” for damages and contribute to legal costs. After further negotiations the press also agreed, on June 20, 2007, to request 280 libraries around the world to withdraw the book or insert an erratum slip. During these three months of negotiations Millard and I had naively assumed that, as authors, we were automatically a party to any settlement but were now informed we “are out of jurisdiction” so that CUP had to ask “whether of not they [the authors] wish to join in any settlement with your client [Mahfouz].” On 30 July 2007 Mr. Justice Eady in the London High Court accepted the abject surrender of CUP which promptly pulped 2,340 existing copies of Alms for Jihad, sent letters to the relevant libraries to do the same or insert an errata sheet, issued a public apology, and paid costs and damages. “

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Pliny – yes. Don’t let it make you too nervous though. It’s wise to be cautious about individuals, but groups are another matter. That doesn’t sound like something you have to worry about.

  11. 11
    Pliny the in Between

    I’m not clever enough to be too worried about it. Plus my artistic limitations will always provide protection from someone trying to prove I was mocking them specifically.

  12. 12
    rq

    They pulped how many copies of a book because some Shaykh got upset????

  1. 13
    All of the Shaykh’s demands » Butterflies and Wheels

    […] it came up, I thought I might as well take a look back at those grotesque libel cases from the recent […]

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