tag archives: freedom of speech
10 Aug 2010
Investigative journalism, by definition, would not function without the freedom to scrutinise, criticise and question its subject matter. After all, freedom of expression is the cornerstone of argument and debate. Yet our current libel laws are so bias towards the claimants and so hostile to writers that they are in danger of stifling journalism.
This is the argument being put forward by The Libel Reform Campaign, following a spate of high profile law suits – most notably, that of Simon Singh. Simon, a well known science writer has spent the past two years under the media spotlight as his infamous libel battle with the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) unfolded. In 2008, Simon wrote an article for The Guardian, where he alleged the BCA promoted “bogus treatments” for certain infant conditions like asthma, colic and earache. When he refused to make a retraction or apologise, the BCA launched legal action against him.
Last week, we met up with Simon Singh to discuss his case. He told us how, despite winning the lengthy lawsuit, his victory had been bitter sweet, leaving him with a two year career void and legal bills of £60,000. Simon’s law suit sparked uproar within the science community and supporters are now calling for a reform of the UK libel laws.
His case has highlighted the weaknesses in UK libel laws. The extortionate costs involved mean that those accused are often forced to back down, withdraw and apologise for material they believe is true, fair and important to the public.
With the current libel laws journalists face an unpopular ultimatum: self censorship or the risk of hefty legal fees. It seems to me, that this goes against everything journalism represents. The best works of journalism are those that spark debate and controversy, after all, it’s a journalists job to leave no stone unturned – why should they apologise for this?