I have discussed libel issues in Korea and elsewhere, but chiefly in relation to Korea. The local problems with libel affect me as a blogger, but the UK is also infamous for its legal system.
Recently, Nature magazine faced libel charges and eventually defended itself successfully.
El Naschie, a theoretical physicist and former editor-in-chief of the journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals (CSF), sued Nature’s publisher, Nature Publishing Group (NPG), and its news reporter Quirin Schiermeier over the 2008 article ‘Self-publishing editor set to retire’ (see Nature 456, 432; 2008). The story reported that El Naschie was the author of a large number of papers in his journal, and that some physicists questioned whether the work had been properly peer reviewed. It also noted that certain scientists considered some of El Naschie’s papers to be of poor quality.
Nature did not deny that the article was defamatory, but claimed three defences: that the piece was true (the ‘justification’ defence), that it was an ‘honest comment’ on the matter, and that its publication was ‘responsible journalism’ in the public interest — the Reynolds defence.
Nature claimed three defences, but the first would not work in Korea: Truth is not a valid defence here.
The Man personally sued, Quirin Schmierirmeir, concluded with this point:
The bigger picture, I believe, is that this case demonstrates once again how English libel law can stifle justified discourse, including open scientific discussion. The burden of proof falls too heavily on the defendant to prove what they said was true, not on the accuser to show that it is false. The law is therefore more likely to stifle free speech and suppress legitimate criticism than defend the interests of science or society at large. As a matter of fact, England’s antiquated libel law has become a liability for the country and, in the age of online journalism, a nuisance to the world. If my experience helps to get it changed, it will perhaps have been worth every second.