The International Legal Environment for Serious Political Reporting has Fundamentally Changed: Understanding the Revolutionary New Era of English Defamation Law
On October 11, 2006, Britain's highest court, the House of Lords, issued a blockbuster ruling that completely changed the landscape of libel law and press freedoms in the United Kingdom. The Times of London described the case, Jameel v. Wall Street Journal, as, "a judgment that lawyers predict will usher in a new era of journalism." Given England's reputation as an attractive jurisdiction for defamation plaintiffs and a frequent destination for "libel tourism," this case is likely to alter the environment for serious political journalism throughout Europe and North America.
This article carefully describes the case, including its key holdings and the important changes that it makes to traditional British libel law. It then goes on to analyze the doctrine of qualified privilege that emerges from the decision and to compare it to the constitutional protections from defamation liability that have been developed in the United States beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court case of New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964.
The critical role that the fourth estate rationale plays in both approaches is discussed. Important differences in both the doctrinal definition of protected speech and the mechanism of protection employed in England and the United States are recognized and evaluated. Fundamental trade-offs inherent in the crafting of special protection from defamation liability for highly-valued speech are identified and applied to the approaches adopted in the United States and in Jameel. Finally, the article offers some suggestions on the likely future development of the qualified privilege doctrine in Great Britain.
Marin Roger Scordato, The International Legal Environment for Serious Political Reporting has Fundamentally Changed: Understanding the Revolutionary New Era of English Defamation Law, 40 CONN. L. REV. 165 (2007).