Why is this court case called McLibel? Did McDonald's give it that name? According to law, libel is the written way of defamation (slander is the oral way) where defamation is publication of an untrue statement that :
- holds a person up to ridicule and contempt
- lowers the reputation of a person
- causes a person to be shunned or avoided by their contemporaries
NB If only the facts are recorded, you can't sue for defamation.
So why are McDonald's sueing for libel, if you guys are presenting the facts?
McSpotlight: Here in the UK, the libel laws lay the burden of proof on the defendants; if someone says that person A has libelled them, person A has to prove that they haven't. McDonald's is famously sensitive about their image; they have issued libel writs to many people and groups, using the threat of libel to silence their critics. Because McDonald's has the money to hire extremely good lawyers and make sure their point of view gets heard, it would be ruinous for most of their opponents to try fighting it out in court; it was always simpler to issue an apology, as Joe Average realistically doesn't stand much of a chance against the legal might of McDonald's in court.
Now, if you are accusing a large multinational of, say, promoting an unhealthy diet, it's not a clear-cut issue; the balance of the evidence increasingly suggests that a diet of hamburgers does contribute to ill-health. However, for McD's to admit it would be very bad for their image; so they fund the scientists who hold the opposing view and use them as expert witnesses in the case; they can afford to bring experts in from all over the world. It's an effort to silence would-be critics of McDonald's, rather than seeing an open debate on the subject.
However, in this case, they ran into a couple of people who refused to apologise because they felt they were right; that the evidence they had was the truth. McDonald's didn't think it was the truth, and so issued the writ and spent $16 million trying to silence their critics. That's why McLibel.