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July 1997

Jun 97 Jul 97 Aug 97




[TIMES - 7 JULY 1997]

LETTERS - Where does libel law go from here?

From Ms Helen Searls

Sir, I agree with Ian McBride that it is high time that the libel laws were reformed but I feel that Mr McBride's recommendations do not go far enough.

In the wake of the "McLibel" trial it is clear that a qualified privilege defence should not only be extended to the reporting of public officials. Public corporations, too, should face the same restrictions.

In fact, as someone whose small magazine faces a crippling libel action from ITN - a corporation that has frequent access to three national TV channels - I believe that the only fair reform would be to extend qualified privilege to the reporting of all those in the public eye.

Public figures [individuals and corporations] have the capacity to mould and shape public opinion. The McDonald's Corporation, for instance, has the capacity to tell the whole world about how wonderful its food products are through advertising. Similarly, ITN has the capacity to answer its critics through its broadcasts.

When public figures have such influence it is only right that they are open to more vigorous criticism than the rest of us. The "public right to know" that Mr McBride discusses should also apply to all those who are in a position of influence and responsibility.

Yours faithfully, HELEN SEARLS [Legal co-ordinator, LM Magazine], 91 Bathurst Gardens, Kensal Rise. NW10

June 25

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