Sunday, December 20, 2009

Assault on free speech

I've reported before on efforts to pass the Free Speech Protection Act to protect American authors and publishers against foreign libel suits. In this article, Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld describes the kind of libel suits now popping up.

In addition to the British one against her - which she lost in absentia - for alleging that a Saudi billionaire was financing Islamist terrorism, there a Brazilian one against a fellow who criticized Brazilian air traffic control (after he nearly died in a crash there), and a Canadian one against a New-Jersey-based writer who revealed that Al Qaeda members - designated as terrorists - who attended the McMaster's College of Engineering in Hamilton, Ontario, apparently left the school in 2004 with 180 pounds of nuclear waste.

Meanwhile, this column from the Wall Street Journal lists other cases: A Boston company that sued a British cardiologist in London for criticism he made about the clinical trials of a device used in heart surgery; or an Icelandic businessman who used London courts to sue an Icelandic academic for comments on the University of Iceland's website.

The British are talking about changing their libel law, which is all to the good. However, as these examples show, the problem has already spread to other countries. It would help if Congress just did the obvious - if it passed the Free Speech Protection Act (which to my knowledge has NO budgetary implications). It's not just the individual writers and publishers who would benefit; free speech is the vital element that keeps our system honest.

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