- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 22, 2002

Justifying Australia's libel ruling

The High Court of Australia's ruling in Gutnick v. Dow Jones and Co. Inc. does not open the door for jurisdiction-shopping for libel suits, as is claimed in Monday's editorial, "Globalism, free speech and the Internet." Rather, the High Court only ruled in the tradition of the common law of Australia.
Dow Jones asked the court to re-interpret the common law in a radical way to create a new global theory of defamation liability more favorable to U.S. publishers. The court declined with a ruling that takes its precedence from a number of cases that have been consistently applied since 1847. The English House of Lords recently decided the issue the same way. (The case is of particular interest, however, because it decides the issue of where the publication occurs when an article is placed on the Web.)
The editorial also failed to inform readers that Australian and English defamation law, and the policy underlying them, are different from those of the United States. There is no doubt that the latter leans heavily in favor of defendant publishers. As noted by High Court Justice Ian Callinan, "Quite deliberately … Australian law places real value on reputation, and views with scepticism claims that it unduly inhibits freedom of discourse."
Generally speaking, American and Australian/English defamation laws differ because they place the obligation to prove the truth differently. The latter requires the publisher to prove the truth of what is written to avoid liability for defamation. The former varied from the general common law to accommodate the U.S. Supreme Court's First Amendment jurisprudence.
The High Court found that when publishers put material on the Web, they automatically have chosen to distribute their product worldwide. Hence, publication occurs wherever the work is read. In this case, because the plaintiff's reputation was reportedly damaged in Australia and the publication occurred in Australia, the action could be properly brought in Australian courts.
There is nothing unique in doing multinational business, and the Web is a simple example of that. Justice Callinan, concurring with the majority, stated, "If a publisher publishes in a multiplicity of jurisdictions it should understand, and must accept, that it runs the risk of liability in those jurisdictions in which the publication … inflicts damage."
Finally, immunizing American publishers from the consequences of their voluntary publication on the Web by asserting the "primacy of the First Amendment and its protections" (whatever that means) does not advance the overdue and badly needed debate on the proper balance between rights to information and expression and protecting of individual reputations and personal privacy in a meaningful way.
American publishers are quick to assert the application of Australian or other local copyright laws to protect their work, but whine and cry for legislated immunity when local defamation law holds them to truthful reporting. Is that really what The Washington Times wants to advocate?

WILLIAM A. PRETTY
Arlington

Blind to half of the truth in Israel

A reader from California, Stephen A. Silver, urges "journalistic integrity" and condemns "a stubborn blindness to truth" vis-a-vis reporting the situation in Israel ("Journalists' 'first priority,'" Letters, Monday). Fine, but he should follow his own advice.
He says the Palestinians were offered "a state comprising virtually all of the territory Palestinians claim they want," then refused such generosity. This is untrue. The Camp David offer was to split the West Bank into three sections, with every border under Israeli control. This so-called Palestinian homeland still would have been covered with hundreds of Jewish settlements, all interconnected by Israeli-controlled routes. The offer concerning Jerusalem amounted to giving Palestinians a few little bits around the east of the city. This derisory offer was unacceptable to the Palestinians. Would Mr. Silver, living in a free and proud democracy, have accepted such terms?
Finally, Mr. Silver condemns terrorism against Israeli civilians, so will he show "integrity," see the "truth" and retrospectively condemn Israeli terrorists? These were the Haganah, Irgun and the Stern Gang, all of whom murdered civilians to terrorize the Arab population during the Israeli state's early years.

WILLIAM G. GARRETT
Harrow, Middlesex
England

Nepal's run-of-the-mill Maoists

The interview with Maoist rebel leader Baburam Bhattarai ("Maoists seek a democratic Nepal," World, Dec. 14) is nothing but a mere lie. This is a typical example of duplicity to cover up Maoists' criminal assaults on the Nepalese people.
If the Maoist leadership were truly desirous of a democratic Nepal, the leaders would not have killed elected village chiefs and destroyed village council buildings. If they truly wanted democracy, they would not have opposed the holding of either local or national elections as scheduled this year. If they truly wanted democracy, they would not have walked out of negotiations last November and proceeded to attack government installations and Nepal's infrastructure. Your readers can easily guess the conduct and character of the Maoist leaders who, under the guise of a "people's war," are sowing new killing fields.
If the Maoists were really serious about working within the democratic framework as Mr. Bhattarai would like us to believe when he states, "We have clearly stressed our commitment to a multiparty system in the future state setup" they should have no problem operating within the framework of the present constitution, which guarantees the democratic rights and freedom of all the people and their political parties to promote their interests and agenda in a peaceful manner.
Furthermore, Mr. Bhattarai makes the misleading assertion that his Maoists "are right now making a united fight with the parliamentary democratic forces." Contrary to his claim that the Maoists are "practicing democracy among millions of different classes, nationalities, regions, castes and gender," the Maoists' base areas have become zones of fear and intimidation. The Maoists have been recruiting and using child soldiers to the extent that Nepal is listed in the recently released report of the U.N. Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.
To be clear, the goal of the Maoists is nothing but the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They already have taken the lives of thousands of police officers and soldiers, government officials and innocent civilians. One should judge by deeds, not words.

DINESH BHATTARAI
Deputy chief of mission
Royal Nepalese Embassy
Washington

Asbestos lawsuits hurt the average worker

Maybe the next time the U.S. government issues a monthly economic report, it should include the damage that is being inflicted on the national economy as a result of astronomical asbestos lawsuit settlements ("Checklist," Business, Dec. 14).
I wonder just how much of Halliburton's $4 billion asbestos settlement will be going to real victims of asbestos and not those who do not demonstrate any sign of asbestos-related illnesses. A real problem exists in determining medical eligibility, which is why too many nonsick plaintiffs are able to receive large awards.
When companies pay these large awards, it is usually the little guy who pays the tab. This includes workers who lose their jobs because of a reduction in their company's profitability, as well as those who see their 401(k) plans dwindle as a result of reduced company stock values.
Halliburton is not the first and won't be the last company to pay mammoth awards. Already, about 60 large companies have filed for bankruptcy, with many, many others still in litigation. As long as there are billions to be made from asbestos lawsuits, there will always be more lawsuits.
It is time for Congress to step in, as the Supreme Court has twice ordered them to do, and resolve this problem before even more damage is inflicted on our economy.

GEORGE LANDRITH
President
Frontiers of Freedom
Fairfax

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