It was great to see the cover story in Progress about this country’s pernicious libel laws. The magazine did well to commission Jonathan Heawood, the rather brilliant director of English PEN, who really knows the subject.
Central to his argument is the point that the government risks being outflanked by the Tories on this issue:
The Conservatives could well come down behind the reforms that were outlined recently in the Sunday Times, based on the recommendations published by Index on Censorship and English PEN in our report, Free Speech is Not for Sale (see www.libelreform.org). Unless Labour catches up with this growing momentum for reform, it risks finding itself on the wrong side of history. The party which benefited from the liberalisation of information and ideas at the end of the 19th century now appears to be supporting oligarchs and corporations who are using the law to shut down legitimate debate.
It’s good that Progress is on to this issue. Sometimes it takes a brush with the libel laws for people to realise just how dreadful they are. Earlier this year, Progress was forced to apologise to Sir Iqbal Sacranie over an excellent piece by Paul Richards about the Muslim Council of Britain after receiving a letter from libel lawyers Carter-Ruck. The details of the apology were helpfully reported on the Engage website, which was set up by the MCB’s Inayat Bunglawala.
If you wondered what all the fuss was about, the full details can still be found on the same website. Funnily enough, Carter-Ruck doesn’t seem to have warned the pro-MCB site about repeating the claims.