Guardian editor: Defamation bill doesn’t fit with ‘elasticity’ of real-time news

The British government published its draft defamation bill in March, aiming to give England and Wales more support for free speech, stop unreasonable libel litigation and libel tourism, and enable people to protect their reputations.

But exactly how the news business works today is not reflected in the bill, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said last week.

“In the olden days you wrote a story, you put your jacket on and went home to the pub and that was it. There was no afterlife. Now increasingly you write a story there is an afterlife. People start responding. And newspapers are struggling with building that in to the mechanism of telling the story. I think it’s an improvement because you can begin to clarify and add facts as you go along,” Rusbridger said, speaking before the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill last week.

“I think actually it may be that if one can get some elasticity into the defamation framework, so if you publish something and within an hour you realise it’s wrong and you correct it and clarify it, then I think any defamation framework’s got to take account of what that hour is worth, of misinformation, before you voluntarily correct it yourself,” he added. “And whether we’re not living in an age perhaps, less when newspapers imagined we were making tablets of stone pronouncements about what the truth was, but doing something more tentative, we’re saying these are the facts as we know them at the moment, if we discover the facts are different we’ll tell you. I think there’s a sort of more elasticity that perhaps isn’t reflected at the moment.”

Rusbridger joined Philip Johnston, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph, and Alastair Brett, former legal director of the Times, in telling the committee that it would be dangerous to do away with jury trials of libel cases, MediaGuardian reported.

The libel reforms could be signed into law by next year.


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