The decision of the House of Lords, that the Wall Street Journal's report on Saudi banks' monitoring of potential terrorist activity does not constitute defamation, probably will make Britain a less-favored forum for some libel suits that wouldn't hold up in America (like the one Richard Perle threatened against Seymour Hersh). However, its language seems designed to maintain the stream of suits against gossip rags that report on celebrities' sex lives. "The Lords said the Journal's story was in the public interest and was reported in a serious and responsible way... 'We need more such serious journalism in this country and our defamation law should encourage rather than discourage it,' Judge Baroness Hale wrote in her opinion." Is there really a "serious and responsible" way to claim that Tome Cruise is gay?
Other countries' judges and juries are less likely to give large awards, particularly of punitive damages, than the American justice system is. In other words, to win a lawsuit in the U.S. is quite difficult, but once you do, you potentially could bankrupt the publisher (as in NYT v. Sullivan's half a million dollars, or with Robert Welch Publishing having to sell property to raise enough money to pay Gertz). In Japan, in contrast, winning a libel suit is not difficult, but "The current standard award range of between ¥1 million and ¥5 million (US$10,000 to US$50,000) is not likely to seriously chill Japanese newsmagazine writing. If a Japanese libel victim were to pay the average fee of US$16,000 to sue a publication and were to win an amount that falls within the award range, he or she would actually walk away with significantly less, perhaps even losing money."
On a semi-related note, is it just me or is this Newsweek column verging on the unprofessional for a non-opinion piece? It says Saudi businessmen who file defamation suits "have opened up a new front in the terror wars," and that the family-run Al-Rajih Banking and Investment Corp. is "a Saudi group heavily involved in 'Islamic' banking activities." There's no need for the quotation marks, as Islamic finance is a respectable and increasingly well-established area of law and banking -- look it up, fools.
(Post title explained.)