Just yesterday I wrote of the U.S. backsliding in terms of defamation law, when a libeled-on-the-Internet individual won the absurd amount of $11.3 million. It seems Britain is headed in the opposite direction: Sued publishers once carried the burden of proving any allegations they’d made true; now, thanks to a court ruling, when an article is responsibly written about a matter of “public interest” journalists will have greater leeway. Even when the statements later prove false.
The case involves a Wall Street Journal Europe story about Saudi cooperation with the U.S. government in monitoring terrorism suspects’ finances. “It could not be proved true because the existence of covert surveillance would be impossible to prove by evidence in open court,” according to the article.
My main beef with the write-up is that it doesn’t make clear that, previous to this ruling, defendants had to prove what they published was true. In the U.S., plaintiffs typically have to prove what was published was false. The difference is so pronounced that, when statements are made online or in publications that appear overseas, those suing U.S. outlets will file in Britain, called “libel tourism.”
Robert VerBruggen blogs at http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com.