YOUR HELP NEEDED: a Mumsnet/Libel Reform Campaign call to action

(31 Posts)
MylinhMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 07-Mar-13 12:23:59

Hello

As most of you know, Mumsnet is a part of the Libel Reform Campaign, which has been pushing for a new Libel Bill in Parliament to reform England's archaic libel laws. The laws as they stand impact negatively on freedom of expression in the UK and abroad, with writers and current affairs programmes finding themselves facing defamation suits for breach of "super-injunctions", and human rights campaigners forced to edit or retract articles in the face of legal action.

We're proud that Mumsnet is a network which supports users' freedom of speech and anonymity (in most cases, of course, barring obvious breaches of conduct or abuse under a cloak of anonymity <cough> trolls <cough>). So many Mumsnetters take refuge in the site and gain support on difficult, real-life situations, and they do so confidentially.

England's current libel laws have the potential to silence users by demanding the removal of anonymous posts, or worse still threatening users with libel action if we do not identify them - no matter how trivial or informal the complaint. Though this hasn't happened yet, it's not a far cry from what might be if the law doesn't begin changing soon.

Thanks to years of campaigning with Mumsnet's support, the Libel Reform Campaign is now very close to getting a first Bill through Parliament; one which will protect academic and scientific freedoms, and provide greater legal cover for responsible journalism. However the bill is now under threat from a group of peers who have inserted amendments to stall its progress through Parliament.

The current parliamentary session ends in late April/early May. If the Bill doesn't reach the Commons in the next two weeks, it may be lost entirely.

We need your help. The Government has not tabled the Libel Bill.

We've only one week to save the bill. There are three quick and easy things you can do:

1. Write to your MP urging them to table the Bill via this simple "Don't Kill the Bill" form
2. Sign the Libel Reform petition
3. Share this link with your friends and family bit.ly/14ou0Vv

MPs have told us they don't think that libel reform is an issue of concern among constituents. Our experiences everyday on Mumsnet tell us otherwise. So if you care about and want to protect Mumsnetters' freedom of expression and confidentiality, please take action - write to your MP today!

Thanks
MNHQ

LineRunner Thu 07-Mar-13 16:25:00

I have signed for the reasons you state.

It's about time we had freedom of speech for all; not a two tier system of 'rights' for the rich and the rest of us.

FairyJen Thu 07-Mar-13 18:11:14

When I press on the petition link the page doesn't load correctly. I'm on my mobile if that makes a difference...

WorraLiberty Thu 07-Mar-13 18:15:21

Signed and emailed around.

Emailed my MP.

LineRunner Thu 07-Mar-13 18:57:31

FairyJen, you will have to do it from your PC I think.

FannyFifer Thu 07-Mar-13 19:00:48

Is this an English issue not UK?

Think Scotland has different Libel laws.

It is different fanny, but IMHO the defamation laws here are even more outdated than englandshires!

Done smile

FannyFifer Thu 07-Mar-13 19:24:58

It's something I don't have a clue about to be honest.
I thought ours were ok as during the Ryan Giggs affair thing the Scottish papers identified who it was, printed his picture.

AbigailAdams Thu 07-Mar-13 19:44:44

Done

IlianaDupree Fri 08-Mar-13 01:10:59

Not in England, can I still sign? will pass it on though.

firawla Fri 08-Mar-13 10:23:50

signed

Skullnbones Fri 08-Mar-13 10:47:30

In Scotland, but have done it anyway. Last time I wrote to my mp was about equal marriage in England and he wrote a lovely reply (despite being in a party I don't support).

Signed, agreed, too much inappropriate use of so-called "super injunctions."

CheeseStrawWars Fri 08-Mar-13 16:01:29

Forgive my ignorance... But is this a blunt instrument designed to tackle things like Twitter hate-messages and incitement? As I think something like that where someone is personally targeted needs addressing, people shouldn't be able to personally attack people while remaining anonymous themselves.

But on a forum like this, where everyone's screened by usernames and its up to the individual how much personal information they want to disclose, and no-one really has any way of tracking anyone down, finding out where they live etc - that's not the same thing... but are they trying to cover both with the same bit of legislation? {confused]

BabyFaker Fri 08-Mar-13 21:05:51

Can you tell us what this means in plain English MNHQ?

I've seen some outrageously libellous things on here as well as contempt of court. For example, speculating about criminal cases once legal proceedings have started... Are you saying we should all be free to say these things without threat of court action?

NormaStanleyFletcher Sun 10-Mar-13 14:56:29

Marking place to take a proper look...

Anything that would have prevented the GF debacle has my support

RooneyMara Sun 10-Mar-13 16:35:12

signed

NetworkGuy Sun 10-Mar-13 18:58:18

"For example, speculating about criminal cases once legal proceedings have started" - sorry, but I'm not so sure that speculation isn't permitted...

Posting here isn't quite like someone being on a radio news show, insofar as someone else would have to seek out the posted comments, whereas a radio broadcast could easily be heard by a juror unexpectedly. Also, posting in a forum isn't quite the same as on Facebook or a blog, by someone 'famous' which might be 'followed' by thousands or more, and is closer to a 'broadcast' because of that situation (like a 'tweet' from Stephen Fry or Justin Bieber can reach millions).

If someone were a juror, however, then using the internet and searching for anything related to the case might cause some bias ( for or against ) and that's more of a problem (not caused by speculation, but the juror going against what is expected of them, to make a decision based on only the evidence that is presented)...

... unless you know different, of course.

MrsWembley Sun 10-Mar-13 19:19:15

Marking place - need to do this on my laptop once DS is asleep.smile

BabyFaker Sun 10-Mar-13 21:26:59

NetworkGuy - whether or not you think posting here isn't 'quite like Facebook' and regardless of whether you are famous or not, it is still contempt of court.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 11-Mar-13 10:09:32

CheeseStrawWars

Forgive my ignorance... But is this a blunt instrument designed to tackle things like Twitter hate-messages and incitement? As I think something like that where someone is personally targeted needs addressing, people shouldn't be able to personally attack people while remaining anonymous themselves.

But on a forum like this, where everyone's screened by usernames and its up to the individual how much personal information they want to disclose, and no-one really has any way of tracking anyone down, finding out where they live etc - that's not the same thing... but are they trying to cover both with the same bit of legislation? {confused]

Hi CheeseStrawWars,

It's true that some people have tried to use the current libel reform bill as a way to tackle hate speech and abuse on the internet but as it stands there's nothing in the bill about it.

(Obviously these are serious things but they're not the same thing as defamation/libel and to try to tackle them using a piece of defamation legislation is problematic. There are existing laws to deal with these things, and there's nothing to stop the police and CPS using those existing powers to tackle those who make threats, incite hatred or violence, or otherwise abuse the anonymity of the internet - always bearing in mind the seriousness (or otherwise) of the offence (to avoid a repeat of things like the Twitter Joke Trial). The Director of Public Prosections is currently running a consultation on prosecution guidelines relating to abuse via social media: you can see how this is shaping up here.)

But because some MPs have been fixated with trolls, in particular, we have noticed a slight unwillingness to offer protection to individual anonymous posters and a general wish to downgrade and devalue anonymous posting which we have been trying to counter.

We do think that anonymity on the internet can be a hugely constructive and useful thing - witness the many ways in which anonymity allows MNers to share information and support that they would feel much less likely to share if they had to use their RL identities - and we have made strong representations to relevant legislators asking them to remember how anonymity can be a force for good. (Whistleblowing is just one example of this.) Where someone abuses their anonymity to commit crimes or civil misdemeanours, there are measures that the police can take to uncover their RL identities; so anonymity, thankfully, is rarely a license for people to behave as badly as they like without any consequences.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 11-Mar-13 10:14:17

BabyFaker

Can you tell us what this means in plain English MNHQ?

I've seen some outrageously libellous things on here as well as contempt of court. For example, speculating about criminal cases once legal proceedings have started... Are you saying we should all be free to say these things without threat of court action?

Hi BabyFaker,
No we are not saying that at all.

Contempt of court isn't covered by defamation, and so isn't really relevant to the defamation bill. But we do take contempt seriously at MNHQ and delete posts that seem to us to be in contempt of court proceedings as soon as they are reported to us. If you see any posts that you feel fall into this category, please do report them so we can take a look.

Similarly, we will remove defamatory allegations on MN as soon as they are brought to our attention - what we don't do is scan the boards for libels, we simply don't have the moderating power to check 30 000-odd posts a day. The problem at the moment is that we remove a lot of posts that might well be fair comment or in fact not libellous because they are true. That's for two reasons - first is the huge cost and general uncertainty of High Court libel proceedings, and secondly that we (at MNHQ) are viewed in law as a publisher in the traditional sense and can be sued for what is written on Mumsnet. Complainants are more likely to go for Mumsnet than the author - often anonymous and hard to contact - and because we can't know the truth of any given situation we tend to play it safe and remove almost everything that is reported to us as being potentially libellous.

The bill as it stands proposes a number of things that we hope will improve things, and should mean that we have to delete less but that there is still recourse for those who have been defamed.

That said MNHQ will still remove anything that seemed to us to be seriously defamatory and indefensible as soon as it was brought to our attention.

Thanks for the question.

Glaikit Mon 11-Mar-13 10:29:40

Thank you for clearing this up Justine. I do think two issues are being confused here. And I. The wake of the leveson report there are too many things trying to be fixed by different pieces of legislation.

I have had a response from my MP which is a bit woolly. He doesn't commit one way or the other. I'd be Interested to hear what other MPs are saying too.

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