In publishing online, media organizations face the risk of libel and defamation suits in many countries around the world. Vested political, business, and criminal interests, especially in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, are increasingly using the courts to redress alleged harms, punish journalists and scare off publishers. Libel Tourism: Silencing the Press through Transnational Legal Threats, a report by Drew Sullivan, describes the practice of shopping for plaintiff-friendly courts and the threat this poses to independent media. The United Kingdom’s pro-plaintiff laws, high defamation awards, willingness of its courts to accept jurisdiction, and exorbitant cost of legal fees make Britain the jurisdiction of choice for oligarchs, organized crime figures and wealthy businessmen seeking to punish authors and journalists, regardless of the merits of their cases. The report explains how lawsuits can force media organizations to censor themselves or limit the distribution of their news content, restricting freedom of expression and thus threatening one of the foundations of democracy. How has the problem been exacerbated by the Internet? What basic procedures and resources should organizations implement to avoid catastrophic consequences of libel suits? Will changes in local and national laws shield media from the effects of libel tourism?
Author, Libel Tourism: Silencing the Press Through Transnational Legal Threats
With Comments by
Covington & Burling LLC
The Washington Post
About the Author
Drew Sullivan is a journalist, editor and media development specialist who has spent the last decade working with media in the developing world. He is the founder of several nonprofit organizations focused on a variety of topics, including investigative reporting and the exposure of corruption through journalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is the former print media advisor for IREX, the International Research & Exchanges Board, and has consulted and trained for Internews Network, the International Center for Journalists, and the Center for War, Peace and the News Media. His journalism projects in the developing world have won a number of awards, including the Online News Associations’ Online Journalism Award for investigative reporting and the Overseas Press Club Award, among others.
About the Panelists
Eric Lieberman is vice president and general counsel of The Washington Post. He has worked for The Post since 1998. In addition to reviewing articles prior to publication, Lieberman has focused on helping journalists gain access to public records. He works with other media organizations to press Congress for a “shield law” that would provide reporters with a qualified right not to identify confidential sources in federal court proceedings. Before joining The Post, Lieberman was an associate at Williams & Connolly where he represented clients in both civil and criminal matters. Lieberman has also served on the boards of the of the Maryland‐Delaware‐District of Columbia Press Association, the Virginia Press Association, the Council for Court Excellence, the D.C. Legal Aid Society and the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program of Montgomery County, MD.
Kurt Wimmer is a partner concentrating in media law and intellectual property at Covington & Burling LLC. Wimmer’s practice focuses on representing companies in the digital media, television, mobile, publishing, and new technology sectors. His work includes intellectual property content liability and newsgathering advice and litigation among a number of other topics. He also conducts public policy representation of companies and associations before Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and international governmental entities. From 2006 to 2009, he was senior vice president and general counsel of Gannett Co., Inc., and he was managing partner of Covington’s London office from 2000 to 2003. He serves on the Advisory Council of the Center for International Media Assistance. Wimmer is also a board member of the Media Law Resource Center, The Media Institute, the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law, and the Citizens Media Law Project of the Berkman Center at Harvard University.