Sunday, December 27, 2009

Good News for Canadian Freedom of Speech

Libel law in the fairly-restrictive Canadian legal landscape have been modified by its Supreme Court to add more protection for freedom of expression:

he Canadian Supreme Court on Tuesday rewrote Canada's libel laws to give more protection to reporters who can prove their stories were written in the public interest.

The nine judges created the defense of "responsible journalism" to aid publications which do all they can to produce even-handed and accurate accounts, even if not every statement turns out to be true.

Several large Canadian media organizations had argued that the current laws were too strict and made it easy for plaintiffs to win libel cases.

"A defense that would allow publishers to escape liability if they can establish that they acted responsibly in attempting to verify the information on a matter of public interest represents a reasonable and proportionate response to the need to protect reputation," the court said.

The judges cited recent court decisions in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa which gave more protection to the media.

"The current law with respect to statements that are reliable and important to public debate does not give adequate weight to the constitutional value of free expression," the Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling.

No argument here. I hope that this movement continues in countries like Canada, Britain, and Australian where things have been far, far too skewed towards SLAPP suits.

Something that I saw elsewhere that also makes me happy is that Canada is following suit with the US in treating bloggers and other "citizen journalists" like Big Boy Journalists. I'm not sure how the media will react to that change, considering that they're often the targets of bloggers in one way or another. But it was the right decision to make.

(And, yes, I'm aware that this is not the big news of the moment. I will talk about the Nigerian bomber issue, but the situation is still very much in flux.)

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