Fair comment is now ‘honest comment’

An obscure libel case emanating from comments made online has “significantly enhanced the fair comment defence for the internet age,” reports Press Gazette.

Currently, fair comment relates to “honestly held opinion based on provable facts”.

But the Supreme Court has ruled that UK libel laws need to be “flexible” enough to engage with comments made on the internet.

In 2004, a covers band called The Gillettes launched legal proceedings against 1311, a booking agency that dropped the act following a bitter dispute.
In an online statement, 1311 said The Gillettes were “not professional enough to feature in our portfolio and have not been able to abide by the terms of its contract”.

The case this year reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of 1311 on the basis of “fair comment, now to be called honest comment”.
1311’s solicitor, David Price, said: “The practical effect of [this] judgment is the removal of the necessity to provide a full factual basis for opinions expressed when relying on a defence of fair comment.

“No longer is it incumbent on the defendant to provide the facts on which the comment is based in sufficient detail so as to leave the reader in a position to judge for himself how far the comment was well-founded.”

(Source: Press Gazette)

This article appears in issue 264 of Media Digest.

Image taken by Flickr user smlp.co.uk, licensed under Creative Commons.

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