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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Defamation law progress and freedom of speech

It has been announced in the UK that a Bill will be brought before Parliament to amend defamation law in order to provide greater protection of free speech. This has been welcomed over here by the anti-censorship organisation Index.

Note, however, that there's a big difference between knowing that a Bill will be introduced and being confident that it will contain all that is necessary to make defamation law significantly less oppressive. We're told that:


Over the coming months, the Libel Reform Campaign which represent the efforts of English PEN, Sense about Science and Index will continue to fight for:
  • a public interest defence so people can defend themselves unless the claimant can show they have been malicious or reckless.
  • a strong test of harm that strikes out claims unless the claimant can demonstrate serious and substantial harm and they have a real prospect of vindication.
  • a restriction on corporations’ ability to use the libel laws to silence criticism.
  • provisions for online hosts and intermediaries, who are not authors nor traditional publishers.
I support these proposals whole-heartedly, but I'm just pointing out that they're still not achieved. There'll doubtless be other organisations lobbying to water down the reforms.

We also need these sorts of reforms here in Australia. In fact, before we even get that far, we need a high-profile public debate about freedom of speech here in Australia. I'm sure that freedom of speech is important to ordinary Australians, but I don't see it as being strongly supported by people with political clout. It's noteworthy that nothing serious was said about its importance in the Human Rights inquiry here a couple of years ago, and I don't see much indication that politicians or their advisers really care about it.

And of course we have plenty of high-profile campaigners who are constantly wanting to impose new limits - or to defend old, oppressive ones - on what we can say and how we can express ourselves.

1 comment:

latsot said...

It's taken three years of intensive campaigning to get this far and as you say it's just the beginning. It's an astonishing amount of effort for a proposal to which the only coherent objection is from big companies who want to bully their critics into silence.

Warm and sincere congratulations to Simon Singh and the countless others who made this happen.