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The Contented Little Blogger, or perhaps not

Grim prospects for UK bloggers are ahead of us based on a rather alarming item in the Telegraph today, concerning what would appear to be a rather heavy-handed approach to fair comment and freedom of speech. Gina Ford, author of ‘The Contented Little Baby Book’ has unleashed the dogs of law on mumsnet.com, a discussion site for mothers. She has taken umbrage at what she has called ‘gross personal attacks’ on her character and reputation by users of the site, and via the medium of a solicitor’s letter has sought to compel the site’s owner to remove all and any threads referencing her, not merely individual comments that she deems libellous. The site was quite prepared to kill individual comments, but this was deemed insufficient, and Mumsnet has had to place all discussion of her and her works off limits due to the threat of defending a potentially hugely expensive defamation suit. As owner Justine Roberts commented, "We feel deeply sad and frustrated, we have done everything we can to meet their various demands, but how can we pre-vet everything when we have 10,000 posts a day? We cannot be absolutely sure the odd comment does not slip in. It seems to me the law is an ass and that it allows people with deep pockets to shut down huge websites."

There is clearly a huge implication for bloggers who accept comments on their blogs, although the fact of Blogger’s servers being hosted outside the UK makes for additional legal difficulties that would appear not to apply to Mumsnet. At present Winterton vs Global & General Nominees (That’s Guido) does not appear to have kicked off, but as I have noted before, this has the scope to clarify the cyberlaw dimension of English defamation.

As English libel law stands, one libels someone by publishing something which is untrue, the defences to which are truth, and fair comment. Not knowing quite what has been said about the evidently well-fed Ms Ford, I have no idea whether the posts could have been classed as fair comment or not, but the site's owners have presumably decided that discretion is the better part of valour in this case. I think that there is a need for an urgent overhaul of defamation law, and a vital additional requirement for defamation needs to be malice, as it is in US law (see Westmoreland vs CBS) . In the meantime, I can safely state (based on her own website) that Ms Ford does not claim to have either academic or clinical qualifications as a paediatrician: "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".

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Anonymous rigger mortice said... 9:24 am

there's probably another reason
';Winterton vs Global & General Nominees ' hasn't kicked off!  

Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 9:28 am

'Ms Ford does not claim to have either academic or clinical qualifications as a paediatrician':

but she ate a lot of the pies

ref prev post I meant there''s A reason.hung over apologies  

Blogger Croydonian said... 9:50 am

Nothing wrong with posting with a hangover. I might even have done the same myself from time to time....  

Blogger dizzy said... 10:13 am

I believe people alleged she strapped babies to rockets and fired them into Lebanon*

* that was not meant as a joke.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 10:25 am

Hmm, that does sound pretty defamatory. However, I would imagine that a lawsuit over an allegation so patently ridiculous would not progress very far.  

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