New Media, Old Law – can the courts and lawmakers keep up with technological change, and what are the implications if they do no

David Banks (University of Sunderland, UK)

This is a paper about recent cases in the field of libel, privacy and contempt of court which suggest that the application of laws framed in the age of print, and later, broadcast media, are having a detrimental effect on freedom of expression when applied to ‘new’ media. A study of key decisions by the courts has shown that the effect of the courts decisions can have a disproportionately severe impact on web-based journalists, creating a form of prior restraint. The result is a form of self-censorship by writers, publishers and hosts with ISPs removing content at the first hint of complaint, when print media in a similar position would have to robustly defend what they had already published. Prior restraint, at least in the field of libel, is something that until now has not been allowed by UK law. Decisions by the courts and any legislation in this field deserves closer study because the nature of how web-based journalism is accessed and circulated means that ‘old’ law can have a very different effect on the ‘new’ journalism than it did on its print forebears. As readership of print media declines, those who see a bright future for new technologies ought perhaps to consider the need for legislation to ensure that new journalism enjoys at least the same freedoms and defences that print media have in recent years.

Timing - Friday - Panel Session C2

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