Noam Chomsky - McLibel TV - Steel & Morris - Richard Dawkins - Ian Hislop - Harry Kalven - John Mortimer - Portillo’s State Secrets TV -
The law of seditious libel which makes it a crime to criticise people in government … most countries still have that; we had it until 1964 … they did it in the course of the civil rights struggle. Noam Chomsky, lecture 1992, ‘Deterring Democracy’
A long time ago there was a company that made lots of money selling bits of meat between two bits of bread. Many people were employed to put the meat between the bread and many animals were killed to be the meat. A friendly clown persuaded children to love the company. Some decades passed and all was well. The company became very very rich. Richer even than many countries. And then some people wrote in their newspapers that eating lots of meat and bread could make people ill. Other people said on television that too many trees had been cut down and that the workers were unhappy. This made the company very angry. The company looked around the world and saw that in England there existed a special law that could stop people saying things the company didn’t like. And make them say sorry. McLibel (Two People Who Wouldn’t Say Sorry) 1997 ***** starring Helen Steel & David Morris & Eric Schlosser & Morgan Spurlock & Oliver Ford Davies, directors Franny Armstrong & Ken Loach, opening credits
19th June 1997: the Royal Courts of Justice. ibid.
One of the spies ... stole letters, broke into the office to take photographs, followed people home; we were infiltrated for about eighteen months by seven different spies. ibid. Dave Morris
At some meetings there were as many spies as campaigners. ibid. Dave Morris
Five of us in the group have received libel writs over the What’s Wrong With McDonald’s leaflets. ibid.
The world’s largest fast food business McDonald’s has begun a libel action at the high court against two environmental campaigners. ibid. BBC News 28th June 1994
We were defending ourselves. ibid. Helen Steel
Their own expert was saying, It’s a very reasonable thing to say. ibid.
The entire ad campaign ... was intrinsically deceptive. ibid. Stephen Gardner, Assistant US Attorney General
McDonald’s to try to justify themselves have had to bring all their big guns into the witness box. ibid. Dave Morris
One of the biggest battles we had throughout the trial was getting McDonald’s to hand over the relevant documents. ibid. Helen Steel
They flew over to have secret talks with me and Helen. ibid. Dave Morris
They just couldn’t bear to accept any of our demands really, and so it was back to court. ibid.
They would not be allowed to carry out any overt union activity on McDonald’s premises. ibid. trial judge
Key practices that they’ve pioneered over the last fifty years are spreading throughout society. ibid. Dave Morris
McLibel is now the longest trial ever in English history. ibid. Helen Steel
Libel laws are being used in this country as a draconian form of mass censorship. ibid. Dave Morris, day 309
Judgment Day: It has not been proved that a diet high in fat and animal products and low in fibre leads to a very real risk of cancer. ibid. trial judge
McDonald’s are culpably responsible for cruel practices in the rearing and slaughter of some of the animals which are used in their food. ibid.
Two days later, 21st June 1997: today is mass defiance day. There’s going to be protests outside 500 of McDonald’s UK store, and lots around the world too. They haven’t seen the last of the leaflet. ibid. Helen Steel
Most so-called anti-social behaviour is actually people fighting over the crumbs that are thrown from the table. The real people who are behaving antisocially are those who control all of the resources. ibid.
Having largely beaten McDonald’s ... we have now exposed the notoriously oppressive and unfair UK laws. As a result of the ... ruling today, the government may be forced to amend or scrap some of the existing UK laws. We hope that this will result in greater public scrutiny and criticism of powerful organisations whose practices have a detrimental effect on society and the environment. The McLibel campaign has already proved that determined and widespread grass-roots protests and defiance can undermine those who try to silence their critics, and also render oppressive laws unworkable. The continually growing opposition to McDonald’s and all it stands for is a vindication of all the efforts of those around the world who have been exposing and challenging the corporation’s business practices. Steel & Morris press release
It is a lamentable observation that because of the way our laws are skewed toward the plaintiff, London has become the libel capital of the world. Richard Dawkins
All the libel lawyers will tell you there’s no libel any more, that everyone’s given up. Ian Hislop
The hallmark of closed societies throughout the world. Harry Kalven, legal historian
It’s odd, isn’t it? Kill a person or beat him over the head and remove his wallet, and all you’ll get is an Old Bailey judge and an Old Bailey hack. Cast a well-deserved slur on his moral character, ridicule his nose or belittle his bank balance and you will get a High Court judge and some of the smoothest silks in the business. John Mortimer, Rumpole and the Bubble Reputation
On trial: the magazine that found itself in the dock, and the moral campaigner who put it there. Portillo’s State Secrets IX, BBC 2015
The veteran campaigner Mrs Whitehouse brought a private prosecution for the common law offence of blasphemous libel against the magazine Gay News for a poem that it published in 1976. ibid.
The trial lasted 6 days … The editor Denis Lemon and Gay News were found guilty, and Lemon was given a 9-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months. ibid.