Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Insult laws

8 December 2010

WPFC's 2009 insult laws survey: steps forward, steps back

Spreading defamatory information through the Internet can land you in jail for up to six years in Indonesia - a greater crime than if you defamed someone through traditional means. It's just one example where new media has fuelled restrictive governments to seek even more special protection for public officials, says the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) in its just-published annual survey of insult laws.

The comprehensive survey, "Insult Laws: In Contempt of Justice", covers 61 countries where journalists were punished, sometimes with lengthy prison sentences, for allegedly "insulting" the dignity of officials or institutions in 2009. It also provides key portions of insult and criminal defamation laws.

While WPFC says there were notable advances for free expression that year, "steps forward in one country seem to be matched by steps back elsewhere." For instance, while international efforts to make "defamation of religion" a crime were resisted, individual Islamic countries enforced laws against the notion of "hisba" - harming society by failing to uphold religious principles.

Ireland even managed simultaneously to abolish libel as a criminal offence while instituting blasphemy as a new crime, says WPFC.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., a small, "incestuous" class of specialised lawyers have made fortunes exploiting an anomalous legal regime, says Peter Preston, former editor of the "Guardian", in the introduction to the survey. British politicians have in fact responded to public outcries over heavy libel penalties and have lobbied hard to remove them. "The people who are fighting hardest to preserve the status quo - or, at least its money-raising aspects - are lawyers themselves," notes Preston.

WPFC's annual guide to insult laws is researched and written by Austrian lawyer Uta Melzer, and sponsored by a grant from the Swiss-based global printing and publishing company Ringier AG.

Hard copies can be requested in North America from Carolyn Wendell at cwendell (@) or from WPFC European representative Ronald Koven at KovenRonald (@)

The report will soon be available on WPFC's website.


8 December 2010

U.K. libel reform group puts out libel guide for bloggers

Picture this: someone writes, emails or phones you to say that something you wrote on your blog is libellous and is threatening to sue. Do you take it seriously? Do you take down your material? Do you say you're sorry? Or do you face your nemesis in court? The independent charitable trust Sense About Science has put together a guide entitled "So you've had a threatening letter. What can you do?"

"So you've had a threatening letter" explains exactly what defamation is, and what to do if you are threatened with it. For instance, the guide proffers that how you react in the first few weeks after you receive a threat is crucial in deflecting an unfounded claim or correcting something you got wrong.

"Stay calm, review the material, and be friendly and open in your correspondence. Lawyers say the best way to avoid ending up in court is to write letters that would go down well if read out in court," says the guide.

The guide is specifically designed for bloggers in the U.K. and has been published as part of a campaign to reform English libel laws. In a recent survey, Sense About Science found that service providers and bloggers are increasingly vulnerable because of their unfamiliarity with media law.

Sense About Science cautions that the guide is not a substitute for legal advice, but "it does provide information which other bloggers and writers who have been through the experience say they wished they had known at the outset."

The guide was compiled in association with Index on Censorship, English PEN, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Association of British Science Writers and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

Read "So you've had a threatening letter" here.

Sign a petition for English libel law reform here.

Source : IFEX

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