John Kampfner calls for changes to libel laws

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Index on Censorship, the campaign group which fights for freedom of speech, will next week publish a report aimed at convincing politicians that current libel laws must be changed.

John Kampfner, the former New Statesman editor turned chief executive of the campaigning group, said he would like to see the libel laws changed so large companies, like governments, would be put beyond libel unless they could prove malicious falsehood.

He told the Independent that British law had become ‘balanced heavily against free expression’and that self-censorship had become ‘ingrained’in the media over fears of possible libel action.

The introduction of conditional fee agreements (CFAs) to give wider access to the libel courts has had the reverse effect of what was intended, he says. “You now have the rich and famous taking on legal firms who string out cases for as long as possible to break the will and cash flow of small publishers.”

Kampfner said the public interest defence should be broadened and the burden of proof in libel actions should be shifted from the defence to the litigant.

Publication of the report will come ahead of expected publication of a report by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee on privacy and press standards.

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