The defame game

Those good, honest folk who populate the nation’s newsrooms will be throwing their trilbies in the air in triumph this afternoon after the MoJ published its long-awaited draft Defamation Bill (see story).

The red tops in particular have had something of a rough ride over the last few months, what with the draconian measures being rolled out to stop them spying on innocent members of the public and accusations flying around that maybe some parts of what they publish may have only a passing acquaintance with absolute truth.

But they can stop reaching for that supermarket scotch hidden in the desk drawer for a while as justice secretary Ken Clarke seems to have enshrined a few basic journalistic rights, if that isn’t an oxymoron.

The bill “will ensure that anyone who makes a statement of fact or expresses an honest opinion can do so with confidence,” said Parliament’s favourite cigar chomper.

All of which sounds suspiciously like the ’fair comment’ defence that Fleet Street’s finest have been rolling out for decades. With increasingly limited success, thanks to the work of, for instance, Justices Eady and Tugendhat.

Still, if it means your favourite news providers can now honestly state that they believe Fred Goodwin is a banker, we say it’s a small step on the long walk to freedom… of the press.

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Also on TheLawyer.com: DLA’s Aussie trouble; more woe at Dawsons; and Frankfurt launch for French firm.

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