2011-06-10

Reputedly ... say what?

Today's the last chance to have your say about the Draft Defamation Bill about to be considered by Parliament.

Here's a quote from the Ministerial Forward -
But freedom of speech does not mean that people should be able to ride roughshod over the reputations of others

Doesn't this mean that the issue is, in fact, trivially simple? The principal behind Freedom of Speech is easy — anybody can say anything, anytime about anything or anybody. There's no test necessary to check that it's being done 'properly'.

Reputation on the other hand is a tricky chap. It's subjective. It depends who's looking at it. One organisation for example, may have a very good reputation amongst spirit mediums, astrologers and crystal healers. And may simultaneously be regarded in a less than flattering light by a bunch of physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider.

There's no way to objectively determine if a reputation has been damaged. One man's damage is another's enhancement - a politician's extramarital dalliances may be seen terrible to some and backslappingly cheering to others. There's not even any way to establish a 'base reputation', agreed by all, without polling everybody on the planet, forever (why exclude the long dead - they too may have had a legitimate opinion about the person or body in question and reputations are heritable).

Given no reliable test - either of a 'reputation' or of any supposed damage to it - the very idea that such a thing could have any legal protection becomes an absurdity.

Quite apart from anything else, the use of emotive terminology such as 'riding roughshod' betrays a certain suspicious bias. Why aren't the writers (Kenneth Clarke QC MP and Lord McNally) equally concerned about the other direction? They could just as easily have written But protecting a reputation does not mean that people should be able to ride roughshod over the freedom of speech of others.

A quote from the Executive Summary -
A range of concerns have been raised ...

Oh dear. Sloppy English!

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