International Libel and Privacy Handbook

June 30, 2006

This handbook can be of service to media professionals striving to avoid or at least reduce the hazards presented to them by Internet and international libel.   The Internet is making their publications accessible from almost anywhere.  The patchwork of libel regimes of the countries of the world can easily lay a trap for the unaware.  Media practitioners, therefore, would benefit from acquaintance with some of the practical questions addressed in this work (to name a few: is established media law being applied to Internet publishers?, if so, are there any ways in which Internet publishers have to meet different standards? are there any cases where the courts enforced a judgment in libel from another jurisdiction? and so on).  Awareness of these issues seems crucial in any attempt to prevent or at least minimize exposure to potentially expensive libel actions overseas.  The book surveys 19 jurisdictions.  The editor had to be selective: Australasia, Europe and North America are represented.  Africa was not addressed and Latin America is represented only by Portuguese-speaking Brazil.  Perhaps it would have added to the attractiveness of this handbook if a country from the Arab World had been included.  Nonetheless, the treatment of the jurisdictions that were included is not simplistic, despite the fact that 19 countries create a lot of ground to cover.


A cross-reference chart in pp 378 and 379 summarizes in an eye-catching way the remarkably different libel regimes of the countries in this survey.  In spite of globalization and the existence of regional mechanisms for human rights protection in some areas of the world, the book shows that local advice is of fundamental importance.  As Kurt Wimmer points out (at p 338), ‘National borders, however, remain crucial to risk management even on a borderless medium such as the Internet’.  Different jurisdictions have their characteristics and idiosyncrasies.  Mark Stephens reminds us that England remains “a claimant-friendly environment in which to sue” (at p 219).  The Internet may have brought global audiences to publishers but clearly important differences of libel regimes remain.


Interestingly, not all the chapters dealing with European jurisdictions make reference to decisions of the European Court of Human Rights or the provisions of the ECHR, the regional human rights system of which most European countries are now member states.   The chapters on Belgium, the Netherlands and England and Wales clearly show the impact of the ECHR on their libel regimes.  The chapter on Russia, on the other hand, does not mention the ECHR, even though the Russian Federation has been a party to the Strasbourg system since 1997.  This seems to highlight the difficulties encountered by European human rights law in influencing Russian law.  It would have been useful, therefore, to include in this chapter a brief discussion of defamation in cases involving “public figures” – cases in which Strasbourg case law offers less protection to the privacy of public figures such as politicians.  In Russia, the authorities at all levels reportedly still rely with frequency on libel laws to take the media to court.


All national chapters are concise.  From the point of view of comparative law, the efforts made by those contributors from non-common-law jurisdictions who succeeded in presenting their legal systems in a manner understandable to an English speaking audience are commendable.  Domestic case law examples were used to cast light on the operation of the law in legal systems which are not based on precedent.  Other chapters of this handbook (on international media law and Internet, on book publishing, on enforcement of foreign judgments, on fair use, on the emergence of privacy as a claim in the UK) strengthen the global approach of this work and help to make it useful.


Readers interested in global standards of media protection will find in this book evidence of a world of media almost without borders, in which libel legislation is strongly connected to the nation state despite efforts made at the regional and international level.  This handbook is particularly recommended as a work of reference for media practitioners, all of whom need to be aware of the pitfalls of international libel in the globalized world in which they conduct business. 


Danilo Leonardi is Associate Fellow in the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford.  He co-ordinates IMLA – International Media Lawyers Association, an international network of lawyers working in the areas of media law, media
freedom and media policy: