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UK top court rules media should not face libel charges for fair reporting

[JURIST] The Law Lords [official website], the judicial panel of the UK House of Lords that is Britain's highest court, ruled [opinion] Wednesday that media in Britain should not be subject to libel charges if they publish allegations against public figures as long as they act responsibly and in the public interest. The case was an appeal brought by the Wall Street Journal Europe [media website] challenging a decision by the High Court which was upheld [judgment text] on appeal, ordering the newspaper to pay £40,000 ($74,230) to Mohammed Jameel, a billionaire Saudi Arabian car dealer. The paper had published information in 2002 that the US requested Saudi authorities to monitor Jameel's personal and business bank accounts to ensure no funds were being routed to suspected terrorists. The House of Lords disagreed with the High Court decision, saying it was a perfect situation for the newspaper to use the public interest defense.

The judges further said that even if the published information later turned out to be false, the media outlet should not be subject to libel charges, noting that judges should not evaluate in hindsight editing decisions made in busy newsrooms. The test offered by the court to determine whether libel damages should be available was whether the media organization acted fairly and responsibly in receiving and publishing the information. From the UK, the Times has more.

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