Globalism, Free Speech and the Internet.(EDITORIALS)

Article excerpt


Tuesday's Australian High Court ruling that New Jersey-based publisher Dow Jones can be sued for libel under Australian law because of an article available on the Internet is a grave setback for freedom of the press and illustrates anew the dangers of globalism. Siding with mining magnate Joseph Gutnick, the Australian High Court held that, although the offending article was published halfway around the world, because it could be downloaded in Melbourne, Mr. Gutnick's home town, he had grounds to sue in Australia. The ruling subjects journalists and publishers to the peril that they can be sued anywhere in the world where libel cases are easy to bring, even where the local judiciary lacks independence, if their work is accessible on the Internet.

Legitimate investigative reporting, exposes of corruption and the public right-to-know will suffer because of the Australian precedent. Consider the current flap over Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's role in selling advanced radar systems to Iraq. It is a legitimate subject for media inquiry, but the Australian justices have made it riskier for American journalists to pursue. Unlike the United States, Ukraine allows government officials to sue for libel. The lax law has resulted in novel tactics to control the opposition press and independent media. Politicians sue in jurisdictions with favorable judges, and are awarded huge damages. They then purchase the bankrupt news organization to silence it. In one astounding case, a newspaper editor was jailed for a "libelous" story about a Ukrainian oligarch, Grigory Surkis, that hadn't even been published. A draft of the offending article was leaked to parliamentarian Victor Medvedchuk, a business associate of Mr. Surkis, who turned it over to Ukraine's procurator general. He pursued the case although the draft had never been printed.

Ukraine's libel laws, and less-nuanced means of silencing journalists like intimidation, beatings and government-sanctioned killing, earned it the distinction of number six on the world's list of enemies of the press from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in 1999. …