How is the right to ‘Fame’ more important than the right to the truth?

I was reading an article earlier about the Iraq war enquiry and was struck by something Sir Ken McDonald (former Director of Public Prosecutions) said:

But Macdonald also expressed concerns about the Iraq inquiry, suggesting that some of its questioning has been “unchallenging” and that Sir John Chilcot and his team will be held in “contempt” if they fail to uncover the truth about the war.

For the past 18 months I have been closely following Simon Singh’s ludicrous libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association.  He claimed in an article he wrote for a national Newspaper that the BCA were making bogus claims when they say that they can treat non-rheumatic conditions in children, such as asthma.  An excellent analysis of the ongoing saga can be found at Jack of Kent’s site. Jack of Kent is a UK based legal blogger and part of a group of highly intelligent people who drag me out of despair when I can’t find a New Scientist in a news agents because the shelves are full of Nuts, Heat or other such crap.

I digress.

In the same article Sir Ken McDonald has also accused Tony Blair of being a sycophant and misleading the public. While this is not new information for anyone, this is the first time that someone in the public sphere has come right out and categorically said that Tony Blair was being deceitful. To phrase it another way, his argument to the British public to gain support for the war was bogus. (Subterfuge was the word Andrew Sparrow used – good word.)

I do realise that there is a difference in a legal sense between choosing to write an article for a national newspaper and being under oath in a national enquiry, in addition the word ‘bogus’ is an issue, but to the layperson the motivation behind both comments are the same: the desire for truth.

There has been a creeping air, over the past few years, of oppression and  whitewash. A kind of forcible ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. I first noticed it around the time the Iraq war broke out when several of my friends made their way down to London to join the million strong protest, although no doubt others were quicker on the mark. We can see this in many areas of public life: expenses; the Iraq war; G20 protests and the death of Mr. Tomlinson; libel tourism; you’re not allowed to give a bad reference to staff these dyas, even if it’s true.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is something which is absolutely imperative to maintain our freedom as a nation. We think we are a long way from China, whose Government kindly censors the internet for them, but are Mandy’s plans not of censorship? At what point do we say enough is enough?

We understand that with our right to freedom comes the right of others to freely judge you for what you say(/write ) and that defamation of character can be a nasty business, but we need to be able to trust that what we hear is the truth – at least in somebody’s opinion. There needs to be some sort of balance between being free to speak your mind and challenge what you believe to be untrue, and the ‘right’ not to be ‘defamed’. Currently the balance is obsequiously in favour of those who can afford it, with celebrities and businesses bullying the pot until individuals are forced to fold.

Sign the petition below to support reform of the Libel Laws in our country.


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