Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Mass #LibelReform blog - Fight for Free Speech!

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, complied by the Libel Reform Coalition, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. Now, my own blogging is neither of sufficient quality, nor is it high-profile enough, to attract libel suits - and yet many of the bloggers I consider amongst the best writers in their field have been threatened with chilling legal action in response to them publicly discussing material that is in the public domain and in the public interest.

In short, Free Speech is Not for Sale concluded that the current English (and Welsh) libel laws are extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

You'll know about the most prominent cases of libel law being used to silence criticism, either through reading my own posts or through those by excellent bloggers and journalists elsewhere - with immense strength of character and sheer determination to fight for the right to free expression, the likes of Drs. Simon Singh and Peter Wilmshurst have helped highlight just how pernicious our libel laws are and the urgency with which they must be reformed for the public good. What you'll know less about are the myriad instances of self-censorship, where for fear of being landed in hot water a writer decides not to publish their thoughts - it's this chill which needs to be lifted if open, evidence-based and honest discourse is to be defended.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at , share this and other blog posts that are part of the Mass Libel Reform blog on Twitter, Facebook, water coolers or noticeboards, and keep the momentum going for a campaign that aims to protect what is in my opinion the hardest-fought and most precious of our civil liberties - the freedom to speak out mind, to debate the facts and to hold power to account, without the fear of persecution.

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