Sunday, October 11, 2009

Duly Noted

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that they're not out to get you

old saying


I did think of knocking out a post in solidarity (pah!) with Dave Osler, but Jonathan's comment (link above) in reply to Richard Harris a bit earlier does need to be noted here.

Shorter me: although I now find Nick Cohen incoherent and emotional all the time, and although he's prone to ruin his credibility with feats of mind reading[1], this doesn't mean that he's necessarily wrong all the time. He was right about New Labour fairly early and he may well be right about Mr Justice Eady.

Anyway, good luck to Dave Osler. And kudos to Iain Dale (also IMO hard to like, but like Nick, in the right occasionally).

[1] See for example his Roman Polanski piece: [t]he magazine's dazed New York lawyers...


Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I'm probably one of te people jonathan is criticising here so it's worth making it clear - I've no doubt that the British libel laws are open to abuse, aspects of them could obviously be amended to counter this, and some of Eady's judgments do seem fairly whiffy.

However I don't think Cohen does have libel quite right - as the Polanski piece demonstrates, his thinking on the laws is curiously arrested, often illogical, and his alternative - copying the American libel laws to the letter - doesn't seem that appealing to me, given what passes for 'honest journalism' over there. His 'campaigning journalism' on the issue is almost entirely negative.

I also find his campaigns too often based on a very idealised version of what a journalist is, which his own work undercuts by virtue of its incoherence and emotionality.

I'd also have more time for Iain Dale on this issue if it weren't for his reprehensible treatment of Tim Ireland.

10/11/2009 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

In the Bower/Desmond case, it wasn't just the whiffiness of some of Eady's actions during the case that bothered me, but the question of how on earth the case got to court in the first place. Where was the libel supposed to be? What I mean is, I know what Desmond's lawyers said was libellous, but I really can't understand how it could possibly be construed to have been damaging, or potentially damaging, enough to have reached a courtroom. It was patently an intimidatory use, and hence misuse, of the law and the courts. Bower should never have been inside a courtroom and Desmond should have been told he had no case.

I'd also be sceptical about the idea of importing the American libel laws in their entirety but it really does seem to me that there has to be a sounder basis for a case reaching court, never mind a favourable verdict, than that.

10/11/2009 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah Ditum said...

I agree with Cohen about libel - so much, actually, that a Private Eye piece Nick wrote about the Night Jack case turned out to very similar to a blog post I published earlier on the same subject. But I don't think he's the most compelling advocate for the cause: his last Eye contribution on it was near-incoherent, and he seems convinced that Eady is personally responsible.

To me, anyway, Eady's judgements seem quite mixed - some have been positive in terms of protecting privacy, some have been based on a narrow and illiberal interpretation of the law as I understand it. But as his decisions have all been legal, Cohen's personal broadsides look possibly misplaced.

10/11/2009 04:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to say, Nick's recent track record, including his stuff in the Eye, doesn't exactly help his case for more lenient libel laws. It's a bit like HP Sauce campaigning against the libel laws, when the site spends at least half of its word count libelling people. One for the "Pete Doherty campaigns for more lenient drug laws" category.

OT, but I've been enjoying the little spat between Geras and Conor Foley. I thought Conor acquitted himself quite well, but he's no match for the dialectical sublety of Normski's modus argumenti:

1) Obfuscate
2) Accuse your opponent of obfuscating
3) Cite a whole series of bizarre absolutes
4) Obfuscate some more
5) Declare victory and walk away, safe in the knowledge that your blog has no comments box.

I almost admire the man's chutzpah.

10/11/2009 09:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

It looks like Conor has now been demoted by Prof Geras from 'morally serious' to sin-bin. For all his vaunted love of debate, a persistently and effectively twitted Prof Geras does not forgive.

10/14/2009 06:50:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

Don't know if Geras and David Toube are aware of it yet, but the tsunami of naked anti-Semitism unleashed by Caryl Churchill has now swept as far as Manchester Tourist Office - they are currently distributing leaflets advertising walks in the area of the Jewish museum as "chosen walks for the chosen people".

10/14/2009 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

In any case, it's hard to see how freedom of speech is being 'stifled' by our libel laws, isn't it? The tabloids are hardly cowering in terror of celebrities' expensive lawyers; more or less every new week brings a further apology from some newspaper about fabricated quotes.

So what is Cohen worried about? Does he think that the fact that people are being made to apologise or pay up at all is a disgraceful restriction on free speech? Perhaps he does - Nick and Brighty both thought the Fabian Society were "bullying" them, so he's clearly astoundingly thin-skinned on this issue. If that's what he means, then what he's arguing for is not freedom of speech but freedom of slander, which ought to be heartily opposed.

Without a shadow of a doubt, there are cases that are unacceptable - the Simon Singh one, for example, which Cohen has rightly protested. But his thinking on the issue is hopelessly black-and-white. Even with these supposedly tyrannical libel laws, British journalism is already full of smear, slander and falsehood, so it's legitimate to be concerned about how awful and destructive it would be without them. But as we've seen from his notpology to Nick Davies, Cohen is the only person in the country who still thinks that journalists are morally unimpeachable crusaders after truth and fairness, so it's to be expected that he isn't worried about this.

It doesn't make him a very credible advocate, though, especially when (as OC, Sarah Ditum and splinteredsunrise have noted) you look at his own innuendo-packed body of work.

10/14/2009 10:51:00 AM  

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