British libel could see end of US papers in UK

By politics.co.uk staff

Britain’s draconian libel laws could see US publishers refuse to send products to the UK, publishers have claimed.

A memorandum to a Commons select committee said leading US newspapers are considering halting the practise of sending copies of their papers to the UK for fear of triggering a libel claim.

“They do not make profits out of these minimal and casual sales and they can no longer risk losing millions of dollars in a libel action which they would never face under US law.

“Does the UK really want to be seen as the only country in Europe – indeed in the world – where important US papers cannot be obtained in print form?”

The development could prompt a further embarrassment for British law, which is increasingly isolated internationally in how it treats libel.

Many comments protected under the US constitution, for instance, are a cause of action in British courts, where the balance of proof is on the defendant, not the claimant.

The submission, on behalf of US media outlets, including the New York Times and the LA Times, also addresses the issue of commentary on websites.

A piece of writing viewed in the UK by even one person can be subject to British libel law.

“The consequences of making media organisations liable for putting articles – perfectly lawful by the law of their own domicile – on websites which are occasionally accessed in England should be obvious,” the memorandum continued.

“The cost of fighting libel actions may lead internet publishers to build ‘fire walls’ against access from the UK, in order to avoid such actions.”

Human Rights Watch and Greenpeace International also contributed to the memorandum.