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Only alert readers will have noticed the revival of the old fight for freedom of speech in Britain. The threat of a writ so alarms the mainstream media that it barely discusses the increasingly angry arguments around what the United Nations rightly described as the "scandal" of England's suppression of plain prose and investigative journalism.

The case for reform is not being made by what we used to call Fleet Street or the broadcasters but by Index on Censorship and Private Eye, small journals that are more willing than most to make a stand. A heartening coalition of MPs from all parties is offering critical support, but the strongest push is coming not from editors and politicians but from writers in Britain and abroad, who are infuriated by the ability of rich men to use our authoritarian libel laws to suppress unfavourable reports.

First among them is the New York journalist Rachel Ehrenfeld, who is reshaping Anglo-US legal relations after Mr Justice Eady ordered the banning of her book on the funding of radical Islam. She did not publish or publicise it in Britain, and only a few copies reached Britain via Amazon. The obliging Eady nevertheless acceded to the demands of the Saudi banker Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz to fine Ehrenfeld and order the destruction of her book.

Boy, did he pick the wrong woman to censor. Ehrenfeld has organised US publishers and civil liberties groups to persuade Congress to declare that English libel judgements should have no validity in the US.

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Barry Larking
February 1st, 2009
3:02 PM
A very welcome post. The libel laws are both lucrative and appalling. Thank heavens for a few brave souls who are not going to be bullied into silence.

michael burleigh
February 1st, 2009
11:02 AM
Great piece Nick. One of the obvious problems of our time is how a legislature packed with lawyers can be expected to curb the amoral and rapacious activities you allude to such as trawling around for whatever allegedly gives Islamists offence. Apropos which Radio 4 did a good programme the other night alleging that the firms which negotiate deals with Somali pirates pocket the same sums as are paid in ransoms. Ugh!

Shaun Casey
January 29th, 2009
9:01 PM
I have thought for a long time now that the only heroes left in this country were our service men and women on the front line. It's reasuring to know that free thinking intellectuals are standing up and articulating the thoughts of the less intellegent amongst us.

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