Friday, 1 October 2010

BREAKING NEWS: MigrationWatch use libel threat to silence criticism from Sally Bercow

News just in from the Libel Reform Coalition and the outstanding lawyer and blogger David Allen Green: Sally Bercow, Labour political activist and wife of House of Commons Speaker John, has been threatened with a libel suit by the right-wing immigration think-tank MigrationWatch - Mrs. Bercow is being sued for allegedly libellous comments she made relating to a Daily Express article that quoted a MigrationWatch study linking immigration to unemployment in the UK.

According to the Index on Censorship blog, Mrs. Bercow was on a Sky News programme
commenting on a Daily Express story migration and youth unemployment [when] Bercow said the article grossly oversimplified the migration debate, and that such oversimplification was “dangerous propaganda”. She claimed that arguments linking immigration to unemployment had been used by fascists such as Adolf Hitler and British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley. The Express article had quoted figures from a MigrationWatch study.
Note that it is MigrationWatch suing Mrs. Bercow, not the Express - details as to the Express's position on the issue are unclear at this stage.

This use of a libel threat to silence what appears to be perfectly legitimate criticism of opinion is yet another stark reminder of the urgency with which English and Welsh libel laws must be reformed. If we are to ensure that free speech is not suppressed by those wishing to silence 'open and honest debate' - a concept that, according to author and blogger Richard Wilson, is well-known to MigrationWatch's Chair Andrew Green - then the ease with which free speech can be silenced in this country must be addressed.

It just isn't right to call for an open and honest debate, particularly on divisive and contentious issues such as immigration, only then to suppress the very debate you call for by invoking draconian legal threats against those who hold opposing views.

Nor is it right that the High Court has become the arena where disputes, discussions and debates are settled - just ask Simon Singh, Peter Wilmshurst, Rachel Ehrenfeld or any of the myriad victims of our odious libel laws. Given the centrality of transparent public reasoning in a vibrant democracy, the use of libel legislation to silence critical debate is nothing short of illiberal and unjust posturing - against which I wish Mrs. Bercow all the best as she defends her right to an opinion - and our collective right to free speech with it.

1 comment:

Michael said...

My father went through hell, as a result of a letter and his local councils response to the content. He (and the rest of us) now have a ruling that our (Australian) governments as having a governing reputation too precious to withstand criticism from any source, is no longer justified, but the cost to his health for that decision was a disgrace.
I wish more power to your arm, and Sally Bercow will need such a strength of spirit, my hope is she finds many others who support her cause. How much longer will this state of affairs remain?