Saturday, January 31, 2009

Libel and the Truth Defense

Over coffee and scrambled eggs this morning, Bill looks up from the Guardian and says in an uncharacterstically disdainful voice:

"Your blogosphere is all funny man"

"Its not mine. What did they do now?"

"I was reading some blogs yesterday"

"I thought you read all of 4 blogs"

"There were these links..."


"Anyway the point is these bloggers are funny"


"They have taken up some cause now. The cause of free speech!"

"I noticed"

"And you don't find it funny?"

I do. Not surprising but funny. Other than a handful of blogs (most of which Abi links to here, my views are similar to the ones expressed in this post), I have no idea what the rest of them are all protesting. Righteous indignation as usual. It seems like oh, lets all get together and rant against the mainstream media, this is so much fun, isn't it? Not that I have anything against ranting or having a bit of fun; I am sure I'd even agree to join the party if only I could see anything more than Bloggers of the world, Unite but I guess I am a little dim that way. Anyway, that's not the point of this post.

Getting back to story. So Bill and I were talking about this and we got to libel defenses.

"Which country was this where truth was not an absolute defense in a defamation case?"

"I don't think there's any country like that; not any democratic one. India could fall into the category if you interpret the law a certain way but not sure"

"Not India. Indian laws are strange. There is some country, there definitely was. Maybe old British libel law. I remember studying about this in Civics"

"You studied old British law in your Civics class? Dude, you didn't even study in Calcutta. What did your parents do to you? Get you WB history books to rectify gaps in your education?"

"Oh shut up. We studied about all sorts of countries in Civics"

"Yeah and their old laws. Anyway, I don't think there is any country where truth is not an absolute defense"

"There is"

Google and Wikipedia time. I lost the bet. The country is Philippines. In the Philippines, truth is only part of the defense - in addition to showing the statements were true, the defendant will have to prove that matter charged as libelious was made with good motives and justifiable ends. (from here)

More time was duly spent on this (xkcd would approve) and now that I know so much about libel laws (especially media libel laws) in different countries, I have decided it's my duty to enlighten you all. So.

(Info from here and a collection of Wiki articles)

US: America with its First Amendment rights clearly favours the defendant in most libel suits, especially in cases involving public officials and figures. Truth is a complete and unconditional defense, however, if the plaintiff is a public figure, then even if the defendant doesn't have a truth defense, he might still be alright. A public figure plaintiff has to prove negligence or actual malice on the part of the publisher to claim any damages.

In short, you can call George Bush a fool, and the case will be thrown out unless Bush can prove malice or negligence on your part. One could argue that you can easily get off on the truth defense on this one, but proving the truth in an American court of law is no easy task.

A note about fact vs. opinion here: Just because you start the statement with "IMO" doesn't make it an opinion. Most sources claim that this area is gray and very much subject to how the court interprets it.

Britian: If the American laws are defendant-friendly, the British libel laws are very plaintiff-friendly (No surprises why our laws are plaintiff-friendly too, I guess). In fact, the English courts have been accused of being havens for 'libel tourists' by human rights and free speech advocates over the years. The major differences between the US and British laws are:

1. British common law presumes that the the defedant's statements are false unless and until he can prove the contrary
2. Unlike the US law, a public figure plaintiff does not have to prove fault on the part of the defendant. This is why public officials and politicians can sue for libel in Britain but not very easily in the United States
3. In the US, intent matters. If the publisher believed the content to be true when it was published, that provides an exception even if the statement was false. However in Britain, "under common law a publisher is liable for any false statement of fact, even where the publisher honstly believed the statement to be true at the time of publication and acted in accordance with reasonable standards of journalism"

France: I was curious as to what the French libel laws say as they would have to somehow balance freedom of speech and individuals' reputation unlike the US or Britian where (arguably) one can say, one takes precedence over the other. The French have some rules on who can sue (for instance corporations can sue, however if an employee is the real target, then they cannot), and the defendant can use three kinds of defense - truth, good faith and privelege. Good faith is what makes them closer to the Americans that they would like to be, in fact it takes them one step ahead of the Americans as good faith can include things such as "belief in the truth of the statement, deadline pressures, desire to inform the public, the use of the word "allegedly", or that the statement originated from another source".

Germany: Another country where it is arguable whether truth is a complete defense or not. Defenses inlcude: truth, legitimate public interest, and comment and critical opinion. Apparently, the German courts look favorably on defense please where public interest is at stake. And interestingly, Germany's defamation damage awards are much lower than of the US, and the emphasis is more on corrections and apologies than damages. (Needless to say, Bill claims that being Germans, they possess some precise ways of measuring %s of truth and legitimate public interest and other defenses)

That's it for now. Anyone wants to add to this list around libel laws in other countries including our own, please do so in the comments section. Its quite an interesting subject, no?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Reading readers on the tube

In case you haven't heard, we have moved. As a result, I don't spend most of my commute walking up and down stairs switching tube lines. Instead, now I spend a good 10-15 minutes on one train[1]. This can get quite boring as I cannot read on the tube and it is usually too loud for music / podcasts. So I use my time wisely and conduct groundbreaking research on the reading habits of travellers on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line. I started with people at my station but they didn't meet the diversity requirements[2] and therefore, I expanded the study to all travellers on the line. Not surprisingly, what people read on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line is not very different from what people read on other lines though the distribution of segments vary. As a public service, I thought I would enlighten you all with the results of my totally unscientific study - perhaps commuters on other lines will conduct research of their own and add to this and we might end up having our own segmentation database using which we can save the world or something. Somehow. Anyway.

Oh before we proceed, obviously these are broad classifications and one can break these up into any number of sub segments but considering that I have travelled on this for line for like 10 days, this is all I could do. We will get to granularity later.

Type 1: Green Tabloiders (13%)

Characterised by London Lite, Metro and London Paper in their hands, the most common segment in most tube lines. In the Northern Line - Edgware branch, this segment comprises of about 13% of all travelling readers. The point to note is that the tabloid readers in this line are different from other lines in that they are environmentally conscious. They diligently calculate carbon footprints before they undertake any trip, and they make up for it by recycling anything and everything. What this means is that these people will never take the tabloid from the chaps who keep handing them outside the stations. But the second they see one of the tabloids left behind on the train, they will jump over seats in an urge to find out that Sir Paul is a lost puppy looking for love.

Type 2: FT / Guardian readers (21%)

I know. Technically these should be two very different segments but bear with me for a second. Let me explain. Those of you who know your Northern line know that the South bound train branches again at Euston. One branch goes to via Bank and the other branch goes through Charing Cross before they meet again at Kennington. In the course of a normal week, I have to travel on both the Bank and Charing Cross branches (client location in Bank and home office in Leicester Sq) which has proved very helpful for my research. As every Londoner knows, there are marked differences between the people travelling in each of these branches. My research shows that all these differences can be easily explained by what they read. No surprises. Bank reads FT. Charing Cross reads the Guardian.

Type 3: Kids who restore your faith in humanity (5%)

As strange as it may seem, there are quite a few readers in the tube who read Dostoevsky, Heller, F S Fitzgerald, Conrad, Steinbeck, Pynchon. These are usually the 17-22 year old college students who are travelling up / down to visit their parents who live on this line. This is the segment that gives me hope every time I come across one of them - I can finally believe that the next generation will turn out to be, you know, alright.

Type 4: Carrie Bradshaw wannabes (12%)

If Type 3 lifts my heart, this segment usually brings out the worst in me. Despite my best efforts to be non-judgemental and accepting, I see absolutely no reason why these people should exist in the first place and my first instinct is to throw them out of the train along with their pink Sophie Kinsellas and Candace Bushnells. Thankfully for me, it is not physically possible to throw someone out of the tube. And well, if I am a little honest, I am a little afraid of their stilettos. I have been a victim of these deadly weapons (why the fuck is this thing not on some banned assualt weapon list I don't understand) more than once and I have no intention of going there again.

Type 5: Discover oneself and the world types (15%)

This is a fun segment which means that you can extract a lot of entertainment out of them. There are a number of sub segments, but broadly this segment is into discovering the world and everything it has to offer. They want to learn all about exotic places and people and generally feel one with the world. These are the sort of people who will go to a special screening of Salaam Bombay and feel like they could so relate to the kid in the movie. (No, I have not watched Slumdog yet) They also like to have all sorts of adventures all over the world, the ones that white people tend to have. This group reminds one of the Stuff White People Like blog and their Book is Shantaram. (Which btw has to be the most popular book on the London Underground system though thankfully not on my line)

Type 6: The M club (34%)

This is an interesting group to study - their chief characteristic is that they don't have a set of authors or a genre that they read. They just read this one chap. Not kidding. There is this one guy and all 34% read him. They also look down upon every other segment and will usually hold the book pretty high up to ensure that everyone can see what they are reading. I could see myself warming up to this segment if only they exhibited a little more variety in their reading habits. But don't think that is happening. Don't get me wrong. The man is brilliant, one of the greatest writers living but that's not the point. There is something to be said about a large group of people who will only read one writer and nobody else (on the tube atleast). Ya ya, you all know who I am talking about, its not a big surprise is it? Ladies and Gentlemen, the most widely read author on the Edgware branch of the Northern line is Haruki Murakami. M, I am told, is in.

PS: Feanor, unless you want us all to believe that everyone on the Waterloo and City line reads FT except for this one chap who reads Eurocrime, you better do your own segmentation research and tell us about it.

[1] On some days, I take the main line for hours and hours but then I usually end up working the whole time, so no question of being bored.

[2]For those of you who think its slightly scary that I am (usually) the only non-white person inside my tube station, I'd like to remind you that I used to live in Lincoln Park. This is not half as bad. At least once I step outside, the whole world is around me. There is the Bangladeshi chap who hands out the tabloids right outside the station, and there's the Jamaican news stand guy, and then there's the Algerian falafel vendor, the desi clerks at the grocery store and the Chinese dry cleaners. As I said, the whole world around me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This weekend at the Heath

Determined to get lost, I left the main trails and walked in no particular direction for about an hour and a half. The going was slow as the Heath was all slushy from previous night rains. Finally happy when I had no idea where the heck I was and the usually omniscient iMaps apologized for being unable to find my current location.

Except that in about two minutes I saw a small gate with directions to Kenwood House. Figured might as well as go see the artwork while I was in the area and headed down the path. Only to find that they were already closed for the day.

Btw, if you are wondering why this obsession with the Heath, I can assure you that its more than new neighborhood enthusiasm. I am convinced that there is some previous birth connection - the Heath clay can't let me go for some reason. I must be some daughter of the soil types.

BM , BG: remember the time when the Heath pulled me down when you guys were around? Another pair of walking shoes ruined and the GBP to USD exchange rate the way it is, I can't take comfort in the fact that I am due for one of my annual shopping trips soon :(

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I love Bill (sometimes) and Cary Grant

Guess what arrived in the mail yesterday. Proving once again that once in a couple of years, Bill could really prove to be useful.

Bill darling: Thanks etc. but you do realise you aren't going to keep up your resolution of having to pack less number of books and DVD boxes when we move next?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Since I am just catching up on this inauguration thing...

did anyone else find this obsessive coverage of Michelle's wadrobe disgusting?

Here is the Times, for instance. Vigorously stylish!

Time says a bold choice.

So irritating. Reminds me of the primary races when Clinton was around.

Hope Day One

The good folks at the Daily Show on the speech.

Comment of the day from Jones: "Honestly Jon when Obama says this stuff I don't really think he means it and that gives me hope".

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three One... not very different from Three Oh except that the man from Chicago gets sworn in. Can't complain I guess.

Note to self: Bill's rum cake has more rum than flour. Stuffing face with it early in the morning just because one has no time for breakfast is "probably" not a good idea. Especially when one is supposed to be in meetings where one is expected to behave.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It almost makes up for the pain of moving

This on my backyard, that is. Well, okay, not backyard but 7 minutes is not bad you have to admit.

If there is one thing in which this city comes out on top against comparable cities (and take it from me, there is only one thing), it must be the availability of open spaces within reach inside its limits. And the Queen of them all, as much as I love Regents Park, has to be the Heath. If in that city by the lake, my favorite way to spend a Sunday morning was to run to the river to catch a glimpse of the 333 Wacker Dr as the sun comes up over the lake, in London, it has to be to run and get lost in the planned wilderness of the Heath.

I know I have posted this before but some things are worth posting more than once.

"A sprawling North London parkland, composed of oaks, willows and chestnuts, yews and sycamores, the beech and the birch; that encompasses the city's highest point and spreads far beyond it; that is so well planted it feels unplanned; that is not the country but it is no more garden than Yellowstone; that has a shade of green for every possible felicitation of light; that paints itself in russets and ambers in the autumn, canary-yellow in the splashy spring; with tickling bush grass to hide teenage lovers and joint smokers, broad oaks for brave men to kiss against, mown meadows for summer ball games, hills for kites, ponds for hippies, an icy lido for old men with strong constitutions, mean llamas for mean children and for the tourists, a country house, its facade painted white enough for any Hollywood close-up, complete with a tea room, although anything you buy from there should be eaten outside with the grass beneath your toes, sitting under the magnolia tree, letting the white upturned bells of blossoms, blush-pink at their tips, fall all around you. Hampstead Heath! Glory of London! Where Keats walked and Jarman fucked, where Orwell exercised his weakened lungs and Constable never failed to find something holy"

- Zadie Smith, "On Beauty"

PS: SB, happpy now? Got your Heath pictures?

PPS: SB, as I was posting this, Bill asks: "and here I thought the only Heath SB (or BM for that matter) cared about was Ledger"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two days too late...

The one in Thai and the one in Chingam are the only ones one cares about and therefore misses. So photos get sent very diligently. From this year's Thai edition:

And then there are some pictures where you see youself in the picture though you aren't really there. Like this one below. Moi should be chilling on one of the steps supervising what is happening without lifting a finger to help.

Anyway, for those of you who celebrate, hope you had some of that awesome Pongal.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How can one not love this chap?

Astute readers no doubt remember the time Motu went to Prague and nearly caused a diplomatic incident by trespassing in the German Consulate to see the Trabant. Well, guess what? David Černý is back. With the art hoax of the decade called Entropa (the sidebar has a larger slideshow which has all the countries), and such a lovely one at that. Already the diplomatic squabbles have started. This promises to be fun.

Which country do you like the best? I am having a really hard time deciding - especially like Poland and Denmark but the autobahns of Germany (which might or might not be a swastika) is cool as well. And Britain obviously so conspicous by her absence. And a special mention for Ike..I mean, Bamseland.

Read this Times piece. Fatal mistake, it seems, to have hired Černý. Americans! What can I say?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gimmicky it may be..

But what can I say? It doesn't take much to make my day.

On the tube this evening. Must say that for a second I was very tempted to strike off the "probably" but there were too many people in the car. Well, next time.Now for one of the 800 buses with the same message in a bigger font.

In other news, moi has realised that it works in this country if you email the CEO. At least for BT. We moved (yes, finally, more on that soon) and got stuck with Broadband issues which got fixed in record time once an email was dispatched to chap called Ian Livingstone. Comedy, no? Maybe I can make a living as a CEO letter writer.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

But even in these times...

One has to thanks the Britons and their chief tabloid (everything except Four) for providing the world with much needed comic relief.

First, let us take a look at the knighthoods that have been awarded this year. In the business and economy honours, one finds this:

Nick Macpherson, permanent secretary to the Treasury, becomes a Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath for his work on the financial crisis.

An official statement spoke of his "extraordinary work in response to the crisis in the financial services industry", including the nationalisations of Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.

Whereever Sir Humphrey is, I am sure he would be proud. Bravo!

Next, look at this headline in the tabloid today:

Banks 'feel remorse' for downturn

Go on, read the whole thing. And the last two paragraphs very carefully please. You won't regret it.


I wonder if the times we live in weren't characterised by these warped up ideas of how things should be done, if it would be more efficient just to hire a few people (like Hess) and build a few of those chambers in that 300 sq km strip of land. A knock out blow, a lasting solution, everlasting peace, wouldn't it be? We will never have to worry about them in our backyard again.

Even that little island nation to our South can perhaps learn and do something similar in her Northern provinces.