One of the pieces of legislation currently completing its passage through the House is the Defamation Bill. The Bill aims to bring the law in this specialist but important area up to date to reflect modern social conditions.
But I fear in one significant area the legislation has missed an opportunity – in considering the special position of website operations. Individuals have had their careers blighted, firms have had their businesses destroyed and hotels and holiday operations have had their activities damaged by malicious postings which turn out to be without any foundation in truth.
The website operations argue that they are like postmen – the latter puts a letter through your door, the website operator puts it on to your laptop. Of course this is a false analogy – the website operator puts it onto, literally, millions of laptops. Redressing the balance and ensuring that the truth can be heard is very difficult.
I do not want to limited freedom of speech or comment, but equally I do not think the website operators can wash their hands of the matter.
I think therefore it is important that website operators should establish, publicise and enforce a Complaints Code – individuals who find unfair or untrue allegations made about them often don’t know what to do and so feel powerless. I was therefore very pleased to speak in support of an amendment which would enable website operators who had set up a complaints code to use this fact in their defence against any defamation claims.
Sadly the Government did not accept the force of this argument and rejected the amendment.
An opportunity has been lost.