Friday, 02 September 2011 17:44

Internet Libel and the Law of Defamation: Justice without Borders?

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Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)
LAWYERS IN THE MEDIA (LIM) FORUM
5th Annual Lecture
NBA Port-Harcourt Law Center, August 24th, 2011

The contemporary torts of libel and slander, collectively known as defamation laws which are common features in the legal system of several Commonwealth countries today including the United States of America originated primarily from the English defamation law which permits an aggrieved party to initiate an action for libel for any printed, broadcast or published false statements that harm reputation, diminish respect, defame character, or  cause a reasonable person to have a low esteem of that individual or entity. However, Governmental entities cannot institute or maintain actions for defamation although an offended government official can sue for libel for statements or allegations made against the official in his individual capacity.

          Under the common law, libel can both be civil and or criminal even though, the British Government had in January 2010 abolished the criminal libel which had been in full operation since or around the reign of King James I.  Section 73 (Abolition of common law libel offences etc)of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 abolished the following offences under the common law of England and Wales and the common law of Northern Ireland: (a) the offences of sedition and seditious libel; (b) the offence of defamatory libel ;(c)the offence of obscene libel. see www. legislation.gov.uk.

In another recent development which represented a huge shift from the  English law, the British House of Lords have taken  radical steps to relax the centuries old English defamation law by adopting a more generous and dynamic approach to the protection of free speech which would unbound journalists to investigate scoops more robustly without fear of libel lawsuits. Hitherto, the history of English libel law was that “essentially, no decision was final in a newsroom until a judge, several years later, agreed” with the newspapers’ editorial content and judgment. (Stuart Karle, Wall Street Journal’s General Counsel).

In a recent case of Jameel v wall Street Journal Europe, (2006) UKHL 44  House of Lords, the House of Lords rejected  the traditional sympathetic and favorable  approach to libel plaintiffs by affirming for the first time, that journalists have the right to publish allegations about public figures as long as their reporting is responsible and in the public interest. In the unanimous ruling, one of the panelists, Lord Scott of Foscote, while defending the right of the press to publish materials deemed classified by the government said; “ it is no part of the duty of the press to cooperate with the government….. in order to keep from the public information of public interest the disclosure of which cannot be said to be damaging to national interest” while Baroness Hale of Richmond wrote: “ we need more such serious journalism in this country, and our defamation law should encourage rather than discourage it”. See The New York Times , October 12, 2006, Networked knowledge Law Reports .@ www.netk.net.au/defamation/jameel.asp.


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Kayode Oladele

 

Kayode Oladele is a Nigerian-born; U.S based international lawyer, human rights and democracy activist, public policy attorney and development journalist. He is one of the attorneys in the United States handling major international human rights violation cases. He is best known for representing the plaintiffs in the international human rights violation case brought by a group of Nigerians including the mover of the Nigerian self –independence motion in 1956, Chief Anthony Enahoro and Hafsat Abiola-Costello, daughter of the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, Chief M.K.O Abiola against a former military ruler in Nigeria, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar. The case, which was initially filed at the U.S District Court, Eastern District of Michigan in February 2001 and later transferred to the U.S District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Chicago, has made significant contributions to the field of international human rights law most notably in relation to the connection between the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, (a.k.a Alien Tort Claims Act) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) of 1991. Oladele represented the family of Osamuyia Aikpitanhi (b. c.1984, a Nigerian national who was forcefully put on an Iberia aircraft, left with a restraining gag over his mouth and died on an Iberia flight while being deported from Spain to Nigeria on the 9th of June, 2007) in a torture and wrongful death complaint against the Iberia Airlines at the U.S District Court for the Eastern district of Michigan. He also represented the Aikpitanhi family in an international human rights violation suit against Spain before the European Court of Human Rights inStrasbourg, France. He is also a  co-counsel with the former President of West African Bar Association (WABA) Mr. Femi Falana in a similar suit against the Iberia Airlines currently pending before the Federal High Court, Lagos, Nigeria while he is currently the lead counsel representing the Ogale community in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State in a major environmental pollution case against the oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell before a US federal Court.

 

As a development journalist, Oladele focuses on the endemic problems of the society, the needs of the people and emphasizes effective participation of people in development planning alongside with the government. Guided by the relationship between Journalism and Development Initiative and journalistic principles of ensuring nation-building, national unity and social cohesion, Oladele propounds action-oriented approach to help overcome challenges like poverty, illiteracy, democracy, rule of law and socio-economic problems in developing countries

 

Oladele is one of the pioneers of contemporary prodemocracy, human rights and civil society movement in Nigeria. As the Executive Director of the Movement for Social and Economic Justice (MOSEJ) and member of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), the Campaign for Democracy (CD), the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), United Democratic Front of Nigeria (UDFN), the Nigerian Prodemocracy Network (NPDN), the Nigerian Advocacy Group for Democracy and Human Rights (NAG-DHR) where he teamed up with its president, Maureen Idehen to operate an anti-military short wave radio, "Save Nigeria Broadcasting Service", in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, between 1997 and 1999, he played a pivotal role (both nationally and internationally) in the Nigerian democratic movement and agitation for civil rule that eventually led to the collapse of military dictatorship in Nigeria in 1999.

 

He holds a Bachelor of laws [LLB (Hons)] degree from the University of Lagos,Nigeria, Master of Laws [LLM] degree from the Wayne State University Law School, Detroit, Michigan and Barrister -at-law [BL] from the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos. He also attended the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos, Nigeria. He is an attorney and counselor -at-law of the Supreme Courts of the United States of America and Nigeria respectively. Oladele, who is the vice-chairman of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Oil and Gas Law (IOGL) Abuja, Nigeria is admitted to practice before the US Courts of Appeals for the Armed Forces, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and Federal Circuits respectively and the US Court of International Trade, U.S District Courts for the Eastern District of Michigan, Northern District of Illinois and District of (Washington) D.C etc. He is a member of several professional Associations including the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, (CIArb) UK, Association for International Arbitration (AIA), the International Nuclear Law Association (INLA), the State Bar of Michigan, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).