Will Jinx on Investigative Journalism End?
British libel laws have so effectively shielded individuals and corporations from the unwelcome attentions of the press that the romance between reporters and investigative journalism has been jinxed.
Reporters worried – sweated might be the more accurate word – that they and their papers would be hauled into court on charges of libel if their reporting was construed as defamatory. Much reporting is naturally defamatory because the truth is not a liar, but the thought of expensive and exhausting court cases with stiff fines understandably dampens a reporter's investigative ardour.
In this century, a newspaper chose to fight back. Britain's Law Lords heard the case of Jameel v. The Wall Street Journal and unanimously overturned two lower-court rulings.
The Law Lords held that if the journalist acted "fairly and responsibly in gathering and publishing the information" and if the information was of public importance, the press will not face libel charges for publishing a defamatory statement whether it is true or false.
The new ruling, which has just been issued, looks promising, but one wonders whether it will cut any mustard with the European Union. The EU has hounded a Belgian reporter and destroyed his computer and files because he tried to tell the story of EU corruption.
Is fear of defamatory proceedings by the EU the reason British newspapers have written so little about the European Union? And isn't their deathly silence likely to continue given that EU laws now trump British law?