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Libel Thumper

What with yesterday’s delay (due to some deft manoeuvring by Eddie Genson), now’s not a bad time to look at some marginal issues that could have interesting long-term implications. Over the weekend, Peter Preston reported in the Observer on Conrad’s bellicose (not to mention chilling) warnings that “My libel suits, the largest in Canadian history at $3 billion, are patiently waiting like racehorses at the starting gate.” If that doesn’t tighten sphincters in newsrooms around town, nothing will.

Still, one wonders whether his Lordship might take a peek at British papers this week and catch up on the proceedings of a certain appeals case. The court is reviewing a decision to allow a recent libel case to move forward. It’s a complicated matter, but as you’ll see from the crucial passage in Duncan Campbell’s excellent summary in today’s Guardian, it won’t likely give Black much solace.

“Conrad Black, the former Telegraph proprietor, on trial in Chicago, has indicated that, if acquitted, he will seek nearly £5m damages over Tom Bower’s unauthorized biography, Conrad & Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge. The Reynolds defence of qualified privilege allows the media to print allegations that are in the public interest, irrespective of whether their truth can be ascertained, so long as certain important tests are applied. In the Jameel case, Britain’s highest court ruled that newspapers and broadcasters who act responsibly and who are reporting on stories of public importance need not fear libel actions. The judgment meant that in an area of public importance, allegations that could not subsequently be proved true should not attract libel damages if they had been published responsibly.”

In other words, even if he is exonerated at trial, those starting gates Black referred to might never open.

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