Freedom of speech!

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by Cuddles, Aug 8, 2006.

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  1. My wife is a keen poster on mumsnet, where she is known not as The Fenian Bride but as "Yeah in a minute" - her catch-phrase when handling the Fenianette. She has been following the Gina Ford (there, I've said it! Bring on the lawyers...) stramash at close-hand and has been briefing me in on it.

    Essentially, as I understand it, some woman what writes books about babies and who therefore feels she is "Sir Oracle and when I ope my lips let no dog bark" has taken exception to debate on her writings amongst the virtually gathered mums. According to TFB/YIAM, the debate has been fair and even with as many pro-Ms Ford as against. However Ms ford has taken severe legal actions against the site, which is apparently well moderated by two ladies of the Good CO/Bad CO nature - presumably Good Mum and Wicked Step Mum?

    The bottom line is that Ms ford is seeking to have the web-site closed. This seems an abuse of natural justice and seems heavy-handed indeed. The analogy has been used in the past that web-sites and their operators are like pubs and their landlords. On one hand landlords cannot be responsible for everything said, at every table but they should eject and even bar those who act continuously irresponsibly or with malice. Under english law this is not the case, operators are seen as publishers and if defamation is alleged, then the wait of proof lies with the "publisher" not the aggrieved. Blonde bint must be very excited as we speak...

    I think that the mumsnet crowd seem to be quite responsible and it seems foolish for web-site operators to be dealt with in this way - under English Law - on what is an inter-net site in any case. It isn't as if abusive posts were left to stand and with 10000 a day, that would be no mean feat to clean up daily! How does the world of Arrse feel about this issue of free-speech?

    NB Please don't tell us how you feel about Gina ford - do that on mumsnet because it looks like they are closing that anyway!! :twisted:
     
  2. Judging by the comments on Arrse by various posters I would have thought lawyers would have had a field day here years ago! :wink:
     
  3. Cuddles, I was intriuged by your post and did a bit of research on this Gina Ford. Whatever she started as, she seems to have turned into a self-aggrandising, conceited and arrogant person, who's so used to being lauded for her views that she can't stand to be criticised. This is unfortunately a development that often takes place with people whose primary interest is "bigging themselves up".

    To any reasonable person, demanding that the website be disabled just because of some perceived criticism would seem a step too far in light of the fact that those responsible for mumsnet have acceded to most of her (to me totally unreasonable) requests. Personally, I'd have told her to do one.

    However, the whole complex does highlight the need for some form of legislation on such things. A law as in America, which protects website owners from this sort of malicious and uncalled for demands, is long overdue in the UK.

    Interestingly, I've also had a butcher's at some of the Italian mum 'n' kids websites that my wife posts on. This Gina Ford comes in for a right ragging on some of them and believe me, the Wops don't hold back when they've a bone to pick! Likewise German websites I've perused. Some of the mothers in both of these countries are really scathing in their criiticism of some of Gina Ford's methods. But her bile appears to be concentrated on this one UK website.

    This tends to strengthen my impression that her unwarranted attack on this particular website is personal. My theory is that she wants it shut down to attract posters to her own website, since she seems to be jealous of its obvious success and sees it in competition with her own (to me somewhat dubious) offerings.

    MsG
     
  4. :roll:

    Here we go again.

    Where do people get the idea that Britain has ever had a "right of free speech"?

    It hasn't.
    Ever.
     
  5. Fair comment indeed, Biccies Brown, and very true. But it doesn't negate the need to fight for such a right, surely?

    MsG
     
  6. Not sure freedom of speech entitles you to use terms like "Wops" to describe the Italians !!
     
  7. ViroBono

    ViroBono LE Moderator

    Who does she think she is - Tony Bliar?
     
  8. So, what you're saying Biscuits, is that I can't say what the fcuk I want - does this change if I join the NUJ?
     
  9. That's exactly what it allows me to do, RABC! If some people deem themselves offended by it, tough shite!

    But staying with your hair-splitting scheme for a moment: did you know that the Italian (or Wop) expression for shoplifting (comprare a inglese) translates as "English shopping"?

    So what's your opinion on Gina Ford and what she's trying to do with this website, then?

    MsG
     
  10. Unless anything slanderous has been said about this Gina Ford - then she should be ignored as there are no grounds for complaint.
     
  11. I rather think that this is a storm in a tea cup. I do not think there is any possiblity of a chat room or forum being 'closed down'.

    The only possible cause of action in this particular case would be an action in defamation. The test of whether of not a statement is defamatory is to ask, "does this statement tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of righty thinking members of society generally? Sim v Stretch [1936] 2 All ER 1237, or does it expose the plaintiff to hatred, ridicule or contempt? Parmiter v Coupland [1840] 6 M&W 105. The standard is objective, in other words what would right thinking members of society think, not the plaintiff or her friends: Bryne v Deane [1937] 1 KB 818.

    The action would be againt the individual who was responsible and perhaps against those who run the discussion board who had failed to moderate the discussion board effectively by removing the defamatory statement.

    I think that the lady concerned may be financially motivated and may have been influenced by a recent landmark ruling on this issue which was reported in the Guardian back in March as follows:

    "Expert warns of more chatroom libel awards

    James Sturcke
    Wednesday March 22, 2006

    A landmark legal ruling ordering a woman to pay £10,000 in damages for defamatory comments posted on an internet chatroom site could trigger a rush of similar lawsuits, a leading libel lawyer warned today.

    Michael Smith, a Ukip activist who stood for the Portsmouth North seat last year, became the first person to win damages yesterday after being accused of being a "sex offender" and "racist blogger" on a Yahoo! discussion site.

    Mr Smith, 53, from Fareham in Hampshire, sued Tracy Williams, of Oldham, for comments posted after she joined a rightwing online forum in 2002.

    Judge Alistair MacDuff said in the high court that Ms Williams was "particularly abusive" and "her statements demonstrated that ... she had no intention of stopping her libellous and defamatory behaviour".

    The judge ordered Ms Williams never again to repeat the "unfounded" defamatory remarks, which included calling Mr Smith a "nonce" and accusing him of sexual harassment.

    Although ISPs have paid out for hosting defamatory comments, this case is thought to be the first time an individual has been found to have committed libel on a internet chat site.

    "The obvious and immediate potential ramification is that there will be more cases like this," said Richard Shillito, a partner at the law firm Farrer & Co. "One sees on these sites particularly unrestrained comments that people make in the heat of the moment without thinking of the legal consequences.

    "A lot of people post anonymously but it is possible to find out people's identity. I think people should read this judgment as a warning to be more careful about their comments."

    Mr Smith, a chartered surveyor, said Ms Williams' initially "innocent enough" views hardened after they expressed vastly different opinions over the Iraq war. Together with another chatroom user, who settled for £12,500 out of court with Mr Smith, they began a campaign of words against him and his family.

    "That is when it started getting out of control. I was called a lard brain and a sex offender and my wife was called a prostitute," Mr Smith said.

    Believing he had been libelled, Mr Smith and his solicitors obtained a court order to force the telecommunications company NTL to hand over Ms Williams' personal details. When she failed to provide a defence, they obtained a summary judgment.

    "I'm happy with the judge's ruling, but firms hosting online chat rooms should be prepared to get involved and step in to moderate defamatory statements. I considered suing Yahoo! but their discussion board is hosted in the US and falls outside UK law.

    "I contacted them many times and all they suggested was that I talk directly with the moderator of the forum. It wasn't until a lot later that they agreed to remove the offending posts from the site.

    "The best way forward would be to make it possible to sue for small amounts through the county courts. At the moment you end up in the high court and that makes it very expensive." The former Conservative party member said he agreed with the judge that the comments would have been seen only by a restrictive audience, probably just the 100 or so members of the discussion.

    Despite using the name MikeUKPO53EX, the other debaters logged into the chat room could still discover his profile and details by clicking onto his name. Mr Smith said he would pursue Ms Williams for the damages and to recover his costs, bankrupting her if necessary.

    The judge said Ms Williams must not repeat the defamatory remarks, or in any way suggest Mr Smith is a sexual offender, a sexual deviant, a Nazi or a racist or having any such tendencies.

    In 2000, the internet service provider Demon agreed to pay Laurence Godfrey £15,000 plus legal costs after allegedly defamatory postings about him appeared in newsgroups.

    Dr Godfrey alleged that the company failed to remove defamatory material. Demon argued the case could affect the entire ethos of free speech on the internet.

    Yahoo! was not immediately able to comment."

    Of course, as with all actions in defamation, there has to be an identifiable victim which is rather difficult with anonymours 'log-in' names but there could be a cause in action if the victim is named specifically.

    The award would be damages and costs and that is rather different than having the site closed down.

    Actions in defamaton are extremely expensive to bring and legal aid is not available for it and many statements of intent to bring such actions are issued in terrorum.

    Regards and best wishes
    Iolis
     
  12. ...and the Telegraph and that awful rag my wife reads...the Mail!! Mwaaahah ha!
     
  13. Gina Ford Biography

    Gina was born and grew up in the Scottish Borders. After studying Hotels and Catering in Edinburgh, she had an opportunity to become a maternity nurse and discovered her flair with babies. Over the course of her career, she has worked with hundreds of families with babies and small children.

    For twelve years she was one of the most sought-after maternity nurses in the world, and specialised in caring for newborn babies and toddlers with serious sleeping and feeding problems. Gina worked for all kinds of people, from leading lawyers and high-flying bankers to newspaper editors, pop stars and other media personalities.

    The techniques, methods and common-sense approach that she developed over the years were so successful and in such demand, that Gina decided to offer her theories, not just to those who were in a position to hire her, but to all families who felt that her methods and routines might help them. In 1999 she published THE CONTENTED LITTLE BABY BOOK. It was a runaway success, largely due to enthusiastic, word-of-mouth recommendation. Since publication, it has consistently been the best-selling parenting book in the UK, having sold over 500,000 copies to date.

    In 1999, after the success of her first book, Gina gave up maternity nursing and launched a telephone consultancy service, the aim being to make her specialist knowledge and expertise accessible to a wider range of parents. Through her books, Gina continues to bring her ideas to an even greater audience. Five further titles have followed since 1999:

    From Contented Baby To Confident Child (2000),
    The Contented Little Baby Book Of Weaning (2002),
    Potty Training In One Week (2003),
    The Complete Sleep Guide for Contented Babies and Toddlers (2003), and
    The Contented Child Food Bible (2004) with Paul Sacher.
    A new book, ‘Top Tips for a Contented Baby’ will be published in 2005. As well as achieving best-selling status in the UK, Gina’s books have been published in the US, and translated into Spanish, Hebrew, Dutch and Chinese.

    Gina travels extensively, but lives for much of the time in Scotland. When she has some rare free time, she enjoys swimming, gardening and cooking.


    After all the talk about her, I assumed she was a child psychologist, like "that one on the telly".
     
  14. Thank you for the link Poppy, I had not seen it before but having read it I seriously doubt, in fact I am rather certain that no court would order a webste to be closed on grounds of demation alone. If the action were to be well founded, then either those who run it would be liable if they had refused to remove the defamatory statement when requested to do so and if not, then an action could be brought against the poster.

    I do not envisage any court of competent jurisdiction ordering the closure of a site regardless of what the lawyers demand.

    Regards and best wishes
    Iolis