Libel Tourism: Silencing the Press Through Transnational Legal Threats

Libel Tourism: Silencing the Press through Transnational Legal Threats, which describes the legal risks that independent media worldwide face from libel and defamation suits.  This report by Drew Sullivan, a journalist, editor, and media development specialist, 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.

Vested political, business, and criminal interests, especially in the developing world, are increasingly using the courts to redress alleged harms, punish journalists and scare off publishers.  Sullivan’s report describes the practice, known as “libel tourism,” of shopping worldwide for plaintiff-friendly courts. While the United Kingdom is currently the jurisdiction of choice for many plaintiffs, by publishing online, a media organization faces the risk of a lawsuit in just about any country. Given the wide variety of defamation standards, court practices, and freedom of speech standards, the risks are almost impossible to manage. Leveling the playing field requires the passage of laws in many jurisdictions, better standards and awareness of risks among journalists, and an industry-wide solution to the problems of insurance and legal defense.

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