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article imageUK Defamation Bill poses threat to freedom of speech

By Milo Noblet     Dec 29, 2012 in Politics
A new law to tackle people who publish offensive messages online would have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has warned the British Government.
The committee said that planned changes to the Defamation Bill would cause website operators to remove controversial statements even if they were not libellous. Hywel Francis MP said the committee was “glad to see steps taken to protect website operators who are merely hosting content. But as drafted, the Bill could have a chilling effect on those publishing material online. There should be a higher threshold put in place before material has to be removed.”
Proposals in the draft Defamation Bill were announced in June last year by then Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. The proposals would force operators of sites like Twitter and Facebook to reveal the identity of users who post offensive messages, also known as ‘trolls’, if the target of those messages made a complaint. Sites would also have to put the complainant in touch with the poster of the comments, and if they could not, they would have to take down the offending content.
According to Mr Clarke, this would prevent the site operator from being sued for libel and stop ‘scurrilous rumour and allegation’ being posted.
The bill went before the House of Lords last month. At the time, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice stated that the Government would give ‘careful consideration’ to the committee’s suggestions.
More about Defamation Bill, Free speech, freedom of speech, Joint Committee on Human Rights, Ken Clark
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