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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Libel laws finally clarified in Canada, not so clearly elsewhere

Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee notifies great news!:

The Supreme Court of Canada has established a new defence against libel: "public interest responsible journalism."

The CanWest News Service reports.

Kirk Makin of The Globe and Mail reports.

Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star reports.

Because of the ruling, two newspapers in Ontario will get new libel trials.

The CBC reports.

In the National Post, Janice Tibbetts reports.

Great news? You better believe. There is no real journalism apart from "public interest responsible journalism." Who cares whether someone's neighbour is kibitzing with the letter carrier, or whether the building super is brewing hooch in the laundry room cupboard? Like, that stuff is just so not a public issue (a private issue for the parties concerned, sure, but ... ).

Real journalism is precisely why big wheels sue newspapers and journalists for reporting news that they don't want the public to hear. They take advantage of incidental mistakes, to throw a cloud of squid ink over the big picture, as the linked reporters and columnists explain.

Assume Thugley Beggarall is suing the Toronto Star because the paper reported that he was convicted of blowing up 35 Pleasant Drive whereas the house he totalled was 33 Pleasant Drive. Hard to tell from the mess, in which surrounding houses were also writeoffs, though not his intended target. And what public interest is supported by his legal action for libel?

If you think you deserve responsible and informative news coverage, rejoice with me over this ruling. All a Canadian journalist need do hereafter is "due diligence."

Obviously, some journalism is irresponsible. But you will find that in the tabs at the supermarket checkout counter, along with the exploding bubble gum + funnies, and astrology scrolls. Everyone who is old enough to be trusted with an allowance should know what to make of such rubbish. When a medium discredits itself, it isn't really a big problem.

Meanwhile, in the United States and Britain, good citizens are also fighting back against this present darkness: Rachel (of New York State's "Rachel's Law") writes,
The recent movement to change British libel laws to allow for greater freedom of expression has its origins in New York City and New York State.

I am a New York-based scholar specializing in research on terror financing and economic warfare. In my book, "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed—and How To Stop It," I alleged that Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz funded al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorists organizations through his charitable fronts.

In 2005, Mr. Mahfouz sued me for libel in London, where my book had never been published or marketed. He chose London due to its antiquated libel laws, which are plaintiff-friendly. As recently noted by New York Times correspondent Sara Lyall, London is known as the "Libel Mecca" of the world, and Mr. Mahfouz was the most notorious abuser of the British system. A one-man wrecking crew of Americans' free speech rights, Mr. Mahfouz exploited British libel laws and courts, threatening or suing more than 40 writers and publishers, including many Americans. These cases were never tried on the merits. Mr. Mahfouz's litigiousness and deep pockets helped to silence and intimidate Americans and others who tried to expose his terrorist connections.

Except for me.

I refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the British courts, asserting my rights as a U.S. citizen. Unimpressed, the British judge rendered a default judgment in favor of Mr. Mahfouz. I was ordered to pay the Saudi more than $225,000, publish apologies in major international newspapers, and destroy all copies of my book internationally.
Apparently, Ehrenfeld had no rights as a US citizen, until New York State passed "Rachel's law", exempting US citizens resident in New York from insane libel findings elsewhere. Florida, California, and Illinois have passed similar laws, but Ehrenfeld is hoping for a national ruling by Congress.

Well, good luck with that, in the present social engineering environment.

Here's another one, in case you thought the Islamists were the only feature on this show:
Joseph Sharkey, a New Jersey-based freelance travel journalist, is being sued in Brazil for "insulting the dignity" of the nation in the aftermath of a lethal plane crash that he and few others survived. Mr. Sharkey, who criticized Brazil's incompetent air control on his blog, was sued for defamation, and the Brazilian government is moving to criminalize his case.
Right. Government-funded lawsuits are way cheaper than competent air control.

In my experience, if guidance and resource personnel behave competently, they can offer a reasonable account of what happened, even if everything else horses up. So why sue an unhappy passenger?

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Peer review: Life, death, and the British Medical Journal

This controversy erupted over estimates of war deaths since World War 2 (1939-1945:)
Researchers from Canada, the UK and Sweden have slammed the influential British Medical Journal (BMJ) for publishing an error-filled study on global war deaths, refusing an equivalent rebuttal article and having a flawed peer-review process.
Apparently, the contested article took issue with the fact that Oslo's International Peace Research Institute data show that global war deaths "declined by more than 90 per cent between 1946 and 2002."

"This is not some trivial academic disagreement," says Andrew Mack, director of the Simon Fraser University-based Human Security Report Project (HSRP), which p published a detailed critique of the BMJ's claims in the December issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution (JCR).

"Accurate statistics on the health impacts of war are critically important not just for researchers but also for humanitarian organizations whose assistance programs save millions of lives around the world."
The BMJ doesn't deny the problem:
"But the BMJ is well aware that its peer review process is flawed," says Spagat. "A recent study, whose authors include the journal's current editor, revealed that, on average, only a third of the 'major errors' deliberately inserted in a BMJ article were picked up by reviewers."
In what other line of work would such incompetence be accepted? Would you like your electrician to achieve only this level of competence? He only "gets" one third of the electrical safety hazards in your home?

And remember, if you live in the UK, your taxes pay for these scholars to "do their thing."
Adds Mack: "There appears to be no way of effectively rebutting BMJ articles that contain unwarranted -- and damaging -- critiques of the work of other scholars.
A couple of years back, I wrote on the problem of peer review: Often, it is simply the way establishment hacks prevent competition from new information and new interpretations.

Re war deaths, two notes:

- It would hardly be surprising if deaths in battle declined steeply, post World War II, because battlefield medicine has greatly improved. Indeed, it was improving during the war itself (1939-1945), and some sources credit the Allies' victory in part to discovery of penicillin, which restored personnel who might otherwise have been disabled or dead. Plasma, anti-malarials, and other drugs also received a huge boost due to the War.

- Modern warfare increasingly targets civilians. It could be 9-11. Or 7-11. Or it could be someone's granny, shopping at a Halal meat market in Iraq, to prepare a family celebration. When the conflict is between a trained terrorist and your granny, you should expect low "battlefield" casualties. That is not a battlefield, after all; it is a monstrous crime scene.

- Still, it ought to be possible to maintain another point of view, with solid references. That's one thing peer review should enable, but it is increasingly obvious that peer reviewers do not want to bother.

Anyway, the intelligent design controversy is hardly the only area where peer review can merely maintain a convenient consensus - or tweak beards safely in a politically correct way.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


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