President Barack Obama has signed the SPEECH Act into US law, a move designed to protect US writers and reporters from England’s controversial defamation laws.
The Act, tabled by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, makes libel judgments against American writers in foreign territories unenforceable if they are perceived to counter the First Amendment right to free speech.
The Libel Reform Campaign has expressed concern that our reputation is being damaged internationally due to our restrictive, archaic and costly libel laws which cost 140 times the European equivalent.
The coalition government has said it will table a draft Bill to reform our libel laws in January 2011 after the campaign led by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science. The campaign has 52,000 signatories to its petition and all three main political parties committed in their general election manifestos to libel reform.
Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship said:
The US’s response to our libel laws has already played a key role in advancing the campaign for reform in the UK. I’m hopeful that the government’s draft bill will address the issue of libel tourism, which has a clear chilling effect on freedom of speech, and make it harder for claimants from outside the EU to bully publishers, NGOs, bloggers and investigative journalists into silence.
Síle Lane, Public Liaison of Sense About Science said:
As other countries move to protect their citizens from the chilling effect of our libel laws we urge bloggers, science writers, NGOs and small publications facing threats and bankruptcy to keep up the pressure on the Government to ensure that the proposed draft libel bill brings the meaningful change that is so urgently needed.