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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z Vol. 3, No. 5.

The Laws of Libel : Some Opinions

The Laws of Libel : Some Opinions.

(1)"The Law of Libel has become the journalists' nightmare and the breeding-ground for a new type of legal racketeer who lives on a species of blackmail paid out by newspapers" - Kingsley Martin.
(2)"The writer (like the rest of the world) does not dare to write a word which may damage the earning capacity of a grocer, motor-manufacturer or doctor; but any corner boy may write to the papers and say that he does not know his business, that his plays are twaddle and his books are foul.... The newspapers, smarting under flimsy and even blackmailing claims, are in the same camp as the author and have the same reason to complain of a law which lets one man steal a horse and condemns another for looking over the hedge" - A. P. Herbert, M. P.
(3)"The extent to which the law of libel can and does stifle the press is proved by the fact that the recent munitions inquiry in the United States could and did publish specific accusations against specific individuals and companies in England which were reproduced all over the world - but which could not be either reprinted verbatim or commented on in this country for fear that libel actions might ensue" - Jane Soames, in "The English Press"page break
(4)"The essential weakness of the law of libel is its inherent and unavoidable vagueness..... Whatever the law of libel should provide, few can favour a law which in its operation so clearly resembles a 'lucky dip'" - P.E.P. "Report on the British Press".
(5)"The law of libel, and particularly seditious and criminal syndicalism statutes, are the means or achieving two anti-social results. On the one hand they enable those in power to throttle, or attempt to throttle, not only the dissenting minority, but any articulate nonconformist. On the other hand they are obstacles in the way of innovation and improvement" - Ernst and Lindey in "Hold Your Tongue".

From these quotations it would appear that authors, journalists, and publishers are not satisfied with the present state of this law, The new type of legal racketeer mentioned by Kingsley Martin is the "gold digger" who ferrets out minor, and usually unintentional, breaches of the law of libel, informs the libelled person, and offers to conduct his case for him. Most of these cases, and they are many, are settled out of court, newspapers preferring to pay out rather than fight them. The fact that this underhand procedure is possible and profitable is in itself proof of weaknesses in the law.

The law of libel was, of course, designed to protect the individual's personal and professional reputation from malicious attack. One reason for the very heavy damages juries frequently award against newspapers charged with libel is the widespread resentment against the press for its prying into the private affairs of people and, by its publicity, causing them much embarrassment and pain. During recent years many observers have commented on the strong hostility felt by members of the House of Commons towards the popular papers, which any most. However justified such feeling may be, it should not blind them, or us, to the fact that the law of libel at present acts as a strong curb on fair comment as well as foul.