- Capitalism and Alternatives -


Posted by: Gee ( si ) on October 07, 1999 at 16:04:17:

In Reply to: Some points on McLibel. posted by Rex on October 06, 1999 at 14:17:59:

Thanks for bringing me up to date.

: Secondly, the burden of libel in the UK rests on the defendant.

And why shouldnt it? It certainly doesnt lie with the libelled to have to prove the libel isnt true - imagine the chaos there would be if the law were thus! Then destroying McDs or any company would just be a case of overwhelming them with libellous accusations and saying "so, prove im wrong!"

Libel is like an accusation. So the accuser must do the proving, not vica verca. Innocent until shown to be guilty - and the showing must be pretty good. Think about it, thats how its positioned in law.

: This means that person or company X can say "person Y libelled me!" - and it's up to person Y to prove they didn't - they are assumed guilty until proven innocent.

And here is the abuse of an essentially good system. I still prefer it to the other way round, where anyone can libell and the libelled must defend himself all the time.

It sounds like they messed up on diet, they could have done better to use it as a chance to look good and change ingredients around. Must be their stupid fellow as quoted in a post above.

: Their own experts were agreeing with the statements in the WWWM leaflet; yet for every point, there had to be clear proof.

Naturally! remember that the libeller is accusing.

: Take the rainforest evidence;

Looks like the 'libellers' should have said "destroyed forest X and X", been specific - then the expert witnesses would have been spot on and McDs would have to back down.

Things have to be fairly specific, as in any case where someone is accused of doing something.

I agree that lawyers are far too influential where it should be the 'rule of law not men'

Can you appreciate why libel cases must be handled as if the subject of the 'libel' were being accused and that the accuser must show the accusation to be valid, rather than the accused having to show why they are not.

McSpotlight: Where do you define libel? What was under contest in the WWWM leaflet would be described as "justified criticism" by most people; the most common reaction to the leaflet on the street is "yeah, we know this is true, but we don't care, so what?". In the US, there is actual protection in law for critical analysis; this case couldn't actually have happened in the US; see the McVegan case.

Secondly, consider the legal definition of libel; it stands as 'knowing misrepresentation of a person or group for whatever purpose' viz deliberate lying. Everything in the WWWM leaflet was put in as truth; and accepted as truth by the defendants on the basis of the evidence before they handed out the leaflets. The Two believed it to be true; in this, it could not be libellous; as they were sincere.

On the other hand, the "Why McDonald's is going to court" leaflet *was* libellous; in that it claimed the McLibel Two were deliberate liars; not something it could ever substantiate.

(The judge ruled that McDonald's were allowed to commit deliberate libel to defend themselves against what they perceived as libel.)

Secondly, consider the inequality that existed in the courtroom. How can one party be expected to prove anything without any legal aid at all; how is such a trial fair?

Thirdly, consider the original leaflet. It was a shortish leaflet, not a huge tract. It was intended for public reading. As such, the sort of clauses and subclauses that would have been legally unassailable would have made the leaflet into a book; this was never the aim of WWWM; it was meant to raise consciousness with respect to McDonald's dealings. It was edited to be as short as possible whilst still retaining the message of the complete statement; to the person in the street, "McDonald's is involved in rainforest destruction" is pretty much synonymous to "McDonald's has been involved in over 20 incidences of destruction of tropical forest in Costa Rica and the Mato Grosso de Sul region of Brazil; furthermore, they are involved in the clearance of rainforest and dry tropical forest to produce soya, which is then fed to the beef cattle which are served in hamburgers". You'd have to make an unreadable 2000-page book; this is not something the public would read!

Would McDonald's have backed down if presented with exact evidence? They didn't in the Jungleburger case; in which Peter Heller interviewed people on the ground who worked for McDonald's; they threatened the TV channel responsible with a costly libel suit and the channel responsible (Channel 4) figured it was easier to just apologise and be censored than fight for free speech. Given the fiscal clout of McDonald's, they can use the laws as a threat; any company or group with significant capital to lose will apologise rather than risk bankruptcy.

Fourthly, consider the methods McDonald's used to obtain their "evidence"; as described in the story - they hired seven private investigators to infiltrate London Greenpeace and observe who was involved; they broke into the London Greenpeace office (illegal, of course!) to try and find incriminating evidence; Sid Nicholson (then head of McDonald's UK security - also an ex-Metropolitan Police officer) used his old contacts in the Metropolitan Police to try and find confidential intelligence files on London Greenpeace (this was also illegal!).

And, in one of the most ironic twists of all, the Mclibel defendants were not being accused of writing the leaflet; they were accused of handing out the leaflet; something that the private eyes employed by McDonald's also did.

Of course, it's a matter of personal opinion whether corporates ought to be able and allowed to practise such behaviour; I feel that multinationals like McDonald's ought to be open to public criticism; and that using their power and connections to try to silence honest criticism is wrong (never mind breaking the law and committing libel themselves!)

Still, it backfired on McDonald's; an estimated 2,000 leaflets were handed out before the trial; the estimate now is that over 2 million WWWM leaflets have been handed out; making it possibly the most successful protest leaflet in history. This wouldn't have happened if the McLibel Two hadn't had the stamina to fight a near-impossible fight themselves. It wouldn't have had to happen at all if the UK laws treated the rich and poor equally or recognized the importance of freedom of speech for all.

Rex, McSpotlight.

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